Kent and Deborah Mills (left) are pictured with their daughter and son-in-law, Abby and Jordan Pahl, on their dairy near Lake City, Minnesota.
Kent and Deborah Mills (left) are pictured with their daughter and son-in-law, Abby and Jordan Pahl, on their dairy near Lake City, Minnesota. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    LAKE CITY, Minn. – When Abby Pahl decided to leave her full-time job and join her family’s dairy in May 2019, the industry had been dealing with several years of a depressed milk price. Despite this, Pahl knew she needed to make the move.
    “I can’t deny that there was risk coming back to the farm,” she said. “But I was learing on my strong faith and decided to take the leap.”
    Pahl joined her parents, Kent and Deborah Mills, on their 280-cow dairy near Lake City. Although Pahl’s husband, Jordan, works off the farm as an A.I. technician, he puts in time at the dairy after work hours. In the future, the couple would like to take over from Pahl’s parents as owners and operators.
    “It’s a legacy thing,” Pahl said. “Jordan and I are wanting to be the next generation so our kids have the opportunity to follow in our footsteps.”
    The Pahls are expecting their first child in September.
    Kent and Deborah bought and moved their dairy to their current farmsite 12 years ago in order to fulfill their dream of owning their own farm.
    “We’re hoping we can keep it going because that’s part of why my parents moved here – so they could give us a future,” Pahl said.
    During their involvement on the farm, Pahl feels she and Jordan have helped make improvements to keep the farm going towards its goals of being a sustainable, profitable farm for their family.
    “Cow comfort has been a really big focus to Jordan and I,” she said.
    In the last year, Pahl said cow comfort has improved. The farm has replaced half of the stall dividers in their freestall barn with plans to finish the rest in the upcoming year. Sprinkler heads and other parts of the system have been upgraded and replaced to be back in full and efficient working order.
    “We (my family) have been here 12 years so things are getting older,” Pahl said. “We’re just slowly trying to make improvements.”
    The Pahls and the Mills also changed the stall bedding from lime to a sand mixture.
    “The lime was packing differently than the sand does,” Pahl said.
    With this switch, the cows have increased production and decreased somatic cell count.
    “The cows are definitely more comfortable,” Pahl said.
    These changes are all part of one of their dairy farming philosophies.
    “Do the best you can with the money you have to have strong and healthy cows,” Pahl said.
    Although she does many jobs around the farm, Pahl’s main responsibility on a day-to-day basis is to take care of the calves.
    “It’s what gets me up in the morning,” she said.
    It has not always been Pahl’s dream to be a dairy farmer. In college, she explored elementary education, agriculture education and communicative disorders before switching to animal science.
    “One winter break it all flipped,” Pahl said. “I came home from college and helped Dad a lot more than I ever had, making me have a whole new appreciation for my agricultural upbringing. Then I decided to switch to animal science and pursue a career in the dairy industry.”
    After graduating from the University of Minnesota, other opportunities steered her away from returning to the family farm right away. Pahl took a three-month internship specializing in calf care in New Zealand. During those three months, Pahl was a part of a team that helped 700 cows calve.
    “It was crazy,” she said. “It was easily one of the toughest yet most rewarding experiences of my life. I gained a lot of independence and practice with the management type decisions that happen on a dairy farm.”
    Following her internship, her plan to join the family dairy was rerouted again. She became interim Wabasha County 4-H program coordinator before taking the position full-time for 3.5 years.
    “It was one of those experiences where I learned a lot personally,” Pahl said. “I learned how to work with people, and I got some off-farm experience, which looking back I really appreciate. If I hadn’t done that, I don’t think I would be where I am right now.”
    During her time as a 4-H program coordinator, Pahl also worked at the dairy before and after her full-time job. But Pahl knew she needed dairy farming to be her career.
    “When Jordan and I were talking, we really wanted dairy farming in our future, some way, some how,” she said. “We want that for our future family.”
    There were people who questioned Pahl returning to the farm during such an uncertain time in the industry. At times, Pahl also wondered if she was making the right choice. During those wavering moments, Pahl would focus on taking it day by day.
    “I focus on the daily tasks to give the best care to our animals,” she said. “Nutrition is a huge priority and doing well inside the barn is a must because that’s where it all stems from.”
    She also credits her parents with keeping her spirits up when they are low.
    “My dad has eternal optimism,” Pahl said. “He always says, ‘Keep smiling.’ I try to take on that mindset and don’t let uncertainties get to me.”
    Working with family has been one of the highlights of her career.
    “I think I’ve gotten a lot closer with my parents and with Jordan from a marriage standpoint,” Pahl said. “We’ve grown a lot in our relationship. Working with family and your husband can be tricky, but there are a lot of advantages to it. Getting up every day to come work with family is pretty great.”
    The volatility in milk price and markets have been a challenge as has the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
    “We’ve gone through a lot especially in the last year, not to mention before that,” Pahl said. “There’s been a lot of hoops and hurdles we’ve had to go over to get to where we are now. We just pray we can continue to keep going and keep dairy farming in our future.”
    Despite the hoops and hurdles, Pahl is happy she took the leap of faith.
    “There is a lot of pride and joy that comes with this type of lifestyle that not many people get to have,” she said. “We have a fortunate job here. It’s a lot but it also gives a lot.”