Cheryl Mohn sews an item for her company, Udder Tech Inc., which she started on her dairy farm in Lakeville, Minn.
Cheryl Mohn sews an item for her company, Udder Tech Inc., which she started on her dairy farm in Lakeville, Minn. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
    LAKEVILLE, Minn. – Twenty-five years ago, Cheryl Mohn used her sewing knowledge to create an item that would make milking in her family’s tiestall barn more efficient.
    “Time was of the essence,” said Mohn, who at the time was a dairy farmer with an off-the-farm job and a mom to three young children.
    Mohn’s creation of the first towel tote morphed into the development of her company, Udder Tech Inc., a business that provides wearable products for people who work in the dairy industry. This year, the company based in Lakeville, Minn., is celebrating 25 years.
    “I had a big revelation when we had our 20th anniversary. I had farmers coming up to me and saying thank you for making things to make their lives easier. That was really humbling for me,” Mohn said.
    While Mohn is the president and founder of the company, her husband, Bruce, is vice president and what Mohn calls the silent partner.
    “He doesn’t always do all the business things, but he always listens to things going on. And, he’s an active part of the decision making and assists in what needs to get done,” Mohn said.
    Their daughter, Dana Casto, has been working for the company full time since January 2015.
    “It’s fun to be back and in the family business,” Casto said. “I grew up milking and working in the barn alongside my parents. And, we would take [customer] calls in the barn. People could hear the milker pump in the background, and we would jot down order notes on the back of breeder cards.”
    Other family members helped in the earlier years and now act as a sounding board and a support system. Udder Tech also employs six people, who have helped grow the business and work alongside the family, especially office manager, Tina Stiles.
    Udder Tech is still run on the Mohn family’s farm where the idea for the company started in the spring of 1994. A dairy farming neighbor and friend asked Mohn to mend a bag he used while milking to hold his paper towels for udder prep.
    “He hung it over his shoulder like a purse. I looked at it and thought it would be pretty slick if you had it for your waist and then had loops for the teat dip cups. Everything could be in one spot,” Mohn said. “It would save me time. I wouldn’t have to go to the wash cart between every cow.”
    She also thought it would improve hygiene.
    “If you had an extra towel, you would use it. If you had to get up and go to the cart for another one you would probably say forget it,” Mohn said.
    With the idea in mind, Mohn got some denim fabric and went to her sewing machine to whip her invention together. Then she used it for milking that night.
    “It cut about 20 minutes to a half hour off milking time that first night on 50 cows,” Mohn said.
    She made a few more and handed them out to neighbors.
    “I went back a few weeks later to see if they would give it up, and they said no. That made me think it was a marketable item,” Mohn said.
    The Mohns worked over the summer months to establish the business and set up a logo. By fall, they were selling their towel tote at World Dairy Expo.
    Every year, the business grew a little more, and the Mohns expanded their product line. Customers would make suggestions for products when Mohn worked trade shows.
    “We were grazing (on our dairy) so I had gaiters in my booth and people were putting them on their arms. … That’s how our milking sleeves began,” Mohn said. “If customers want something we’re silly not to provide it.”
    Running a dairy farm made the Mohns credible in their business and made it easier for them to understand the types of products other dairy farmers needed.
    As the industry has changed, so have the products the Mohns offer.
    “One of the biggest moves was from paper towels to cloth towels,” said Casto, who has been working trade shows since the age of 13.
    That is when the company developed an apron with sleeves and front pockets for cloth towels. Mohn and Casto said one of their best sellers is now their waterproof bib overalls.
    “That’s what we’re known for at this point,” Mohn said.
    The overalls are one of the 62 items the company sells in various sizes and colors, which are sold in over 43 countries.
    Getting to this point was not always easy. Figuring out the production side of the business proved to be a challenge.
    “The first production run I did was with a business. I ended up restitching everything because I wasn’t happy with the quality,” Mohn said.
    Another challenge was maintaining their small business and dairy farm at the same time. The demands of both became too much, and the Mohns sold their milking herd in 2011. It has allowed them to focus on Udder Tech in addition to their crop farming and the steers they raise.
    “There are a lot of learning curves whether it’s figuring out technology things, accounting, international orders. We’ve figured out a lot of things together,” Mohn said.
    The creative side of the business – developing products for dairy farmers to use – continues to be one of the fun parts of her job, Mohn said.
    “You’re never finished, and there’s always something else to look at to make things better or easier,” she said.
    Casto said she still enjoys working trade shows.
    “It’s fun to meet customers and hear their stories when people come and say thank you,” she said.
    As the business moves forward, they are relocating to a location off the farm in Rosemount, Minn., for much needed space and efficiency.
    “We’re excited about where we’ve been and where we’re going,” Mohn said.