Cody Zidlicky pets one of the Ayrshires on the dairy he operates with his twin brother near Decorah, Iowa.
PHOTO BY AARON THOMAS
Cody Zidlicky pets one of the Ayrshires on the dairy he operates with his twin brother near Decorah, Iowa. PHOTO BY AARON THOMAS
    DECORAH, Iowa – As twins, Cody and Carter Zidlicky share many aspects of life. So when both of them felt the call to be dairy farmers, starting their careers together was natural.
    In July 2017, the now 21-year-olds started milking cows. Today, they have a herd of 45 mostly registered Ayrshires on the farm they rent from their parents, Don and Karrie, near Decorah, Iowa. They call their herd Canoe Ridge Dairy.
    “It’s cool owning our own cows and looking forward to working with our own genetics,” Cody said.  
    Both working off-the-farm jobs, the brothers put in long days.
    “We both knew we needed off-farm jobs to pay the bills,” Cody said.
    While Cody drives semi for a feed milling company hauling fertilizer and feed ingredients, Carter is a service technician for a local dairy equipment dealer. It is not uncommon for either one to put in 14-hour days at their non-farm job.
    “But one of us is always here,” Carter said.
    Plus, their mom helps with the majority of the milkings while at least one of the twins does the rest of the chores.
    “On days when you work 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., plus the farm chores, it makes you question milking cows, but once I’m out there in the barn it’s fine,” Carter said. “The new calves and seeing the herd grow makes it feel worth it.”
    Since their parents’ farm is only a building site with no crop ground, Carter and Cody source their feed from a neighboring farm. The set-up works for their dairy because they have little time in their schedule for fieldwork.
    The brothers grew up helping their grandparents and parents on their dairy.
    “We were helping in the barn as soon as we could walk, but we probably were more in the way than anything,” Carter said.
    Their admiration for dairy drove their participation in the dairy project in 4-H, and they bought their first three animals at the age of 9 with a $5,000 loan.
    But in 2009, the Zidlickys’ parents had to sell their 106-cow herd due to the crash of the dairy economy. Three months later, the family started milking again but with a herd of 40 animals. By 2014, they made the decision to sell out for good.
    “It was painful,” Cody said. “When you work with them everyday, they’re like family. But [with the cows gone] you train yourself to live a different lifestyle.”
    The two owned a few show cows but had been housing them at other people’s farms. One of those animals, Canoe Ridge Double Barrell Preston, had a successful show season in 2016, including being supreme champion at the Iowa State Fair and reserve intermediate champion of the junior Ayrshire show at World Dairy Expo as a junior 2-year-old.
    “I didn’t want to part with her and have her at another farm,” Cody said. “That’s what started this whole thing.”
    After making the decision to begin dairying, the brothers worked together for several months to get their parents’ barn back in working order. After selling the cows, the Zidlickys had taken out the stalls and converted it into housing for pigs and goats.
    Their plan was to start slowly with 10 to 15 animals, but that would not work financially.
    An Ayrshire herd dispersal came around at the right time, and the brothers bought several animals to start their dairy. They also found descendants from animals in their original herd to grow their dairy.
    “There’s just something about the breed we love,” Carter said. “They’re interesting.”
    On July 1, 2017, the brothers turned the milker pump on for the first time.
    “It was a relief when we started,” Carter said.
    But, it was also nerve-wracking.
    “That first milking barely hit the agitator in the bulk tank,” Cody said. “Most of the cows were pretty stale when they came in. I was worried we were not going to make milk to pay the bills.”
    But production slowly went up as cows calved again starting that fall.
    The Zidlickys’ parents were supportive of the brothers’ decision to begin dairy farming.
    “They said we were young so now’s the right time to do it,” Carter said. “There were definitely a few people who said we were dumb for doing it. That made me want to do it more.”
    Cody had the same feeling.
    “It’s tough, but you have to stay positive,” he said about milking cows in the current state of the dairy economy. “We find a way to make it work.”
    Plus they have enjoyed their time in their second career.
    “I like being outside working with the cows and feeling like I’m being productive,” Cody said.
    Carter agreed.
    “I like milking, because I get to be with the cows,” he said. “They’re pretty tame.”
    In the future, the Zidlickys would like to expand up to 150 cows and have a parlor. They would like to continue to focus their herd on quality genetics that can produce milk and do well at shows.
    “We want to keep getting our name out there,” Cody said.
    The twins are glad they started this dairying venture, especially being they can do it together.
    “There’s definitely stressful times, but at the end of the day we’re on each other’s side,” Carter said.