The 24- by-40-foot milking barn includes 13 tiestalls. The barn was orginally a garage. 
The 24- by-40-foot milking barn includes 13 tiestalls. The barn was orginally a garage. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
    PUPOSKY, Minn. – Aside from the cows on an outdoor bedded pack, Joel Wendorff’s property is hardly recognized as a dairy farm. But inside of a detached garage are all the fixings of a dairy operation – a bulk tank, milking equipment and pipeline.
    Two years ago, Joel and his wife, Shelby, renovated the garage into a 13-stall tiestall barn and milkhouse, allowing the couple to milk 20 cows at their home in Beltrami County near Puposky, Minn.
    “The cows come in where a moped once was,” Joel said.
    The 24- by-40-foot barn is equipped with tiestalls facing east and west, separated by a walkway, and the milkhouse is located in the southwest corner of the facility.
    Cows enter the building twice daily for milking through a service door that leads to the outdoor holding pen and bedded pack.
    “My brother, Dwight, and I drew sketches of what I wanted,” Joel said. “After several changes to the size, we found a good way to lay the stalls out.”
    With a design set in stone, Joel spent the summer of 2016 building his dairy facility.
    The garage already had a cement floor and sidewalls, but the structure needed to be redone to meet inspection standards. For the walkway, Joel cut out 4 inches of concrete and installed a drain system. He also purchased tin and insulation for the sidewalls and in forming the milkhouse.
    “I worked on things in my spare time,” said Joel, who hauls milk for Cardinal. “I didn’t want to borrow money, so I purchased materials when I could afford them and did all the work myself.”
    The Wendorffs were also thrifty when searching for milking equipment and found a complete system available in Stearns County.
    “I was looking through Craigslist for something used, but not more than 15 years old,” Joel said. “This system was all recently rebuilt and fairly dependable. I didn’t have to worry about anything breaking.”
    The only pieces the Wendorffs purchased separately were a vacuum pump and receiving jar.
    Before the dairy site could be fully functional, Joel and Shelby needed to find two more pieces of the puzzle – a milk contract and cattle.
    As a milk hauler himself, Joel spoke with two fieldmen for Land O’Lakes and Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI). He also reached out to a representative from Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) in hopes one would have room for his load.
    “I called all three and told them of my plans, and they all called me back,” Joel said. “AMPI and DFA had room, but AMPI was less expensive with hauling charges because they pick up more farms in my area.”
    Within a 445-mile radius, five dairies are on the Wendorffs’ route and account for 40,000 pounds of milk.
    “That’s a lot of miles for a load of milk,” Shelby said.
    When it came time to build the herd, Joel traveled all day searching for animals that would hold value on his dairy.
    “It was an all-day process, and we drove to three different farms looking at cattle,” Joel said. “I wanted to buy cows with good feet. The sturdier built they were, the less problems we would deal with.”
    At one last stop in Nimrod, Minn., Joel found 19 cows he could use to start his herd. The herd is a mix of breeds – Black and White Holsteins, Red and White Holsteins, Jerseys, Brown Swiss and crossbreds.
    By Nov. 1, 2016, the Wendorffs shipped their first load of milk.
    For the past 18 months, both Joel and Shelby have reveled in their developing career as dairy farmers.
    “We’ve always wanted to farm. Both of our families were involved in dairying,” said Shelby, whose parents stopped milking cows only a few years ago.
    The couple is in the barn in the mornings, as well as Joel’s mother, Alice Wendorff. Alice lives nearby and is able to help with chores, as well as house the youngstock and springing heifers.
    Joel is usually the first one outside. He brings the cows in the barn and feeds them grain before Shelby and Alice arrive to finish milking and clean the barn.
    “Right now, we just scrape all the manure into a wheelbarrow and haul it outside,” Joel said. “With tin as siding, the whole thing stays pretty clean. We just have to hose it down and it’s white again.”
    With Joel hauling milk during the daytime, and Shelby also working off the farm at the Driver and Vehicle Services in Bemidji, Minn., the Wendorffs are busy.
    “I’m usually done with work in the afternoon, so I’ll do chores again and feed hay before evening milking,” Joel said. “If it all goes well, we’re back in the house at 9 p.m.”
    While starting a dairy has not been easy, the Wendorffs both agree it has been worth it. They have received support from family, as well as feed and other supplies from nearby farmers.
    “If we waited another six months, I think it would have been a lot easier to get going [financially], but who knows if we could’ve done it then,” Joel said. “We don’t know if it would’ve worked out. In dairy farming, you roll with the punches and hope you have more good times than bad.”
    Shelby agreed.
    “We get to raise our kids on the farm,” she said.
    The Wendorffs have three children – Brityn, 7, Leroy, 2, and Mallory, 2 weeks old – who like to help with feeding and prepping the cows before milking.
    In the years ahead, Joel and Shelby plan to continue developing their dairy operation. Since beginning, the couple has raised their tank average by 10 pounds and maintained a somatic cell count below 100,000. They would like to improve on their successes by breeding more well-rounded animals and providing quality feed from their 80 acres of rented land.
    “Our goal is to farm on our own; we’ve done a lot already, but it’s a work in progress,” Joel said.