Ryan Kappers prepares a cow for morning milking May 13 on his farm near Spring Valley, Minnesota. 
Ryan Kappers prepares a cow for morning milking May 13 on his farm near Spring Valley, Minnesota. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
    SPRING VALLEY, Minn. – After a few mishaps earlier in the week consisting of equipment breakdowns, a water break and a resulting shift in milking schedule, Ryan Kappers was glad May 13 went as planned.
    “I take one day at a time,” Ryan said of his dairying career.
    Ryan and Molly Kappers along with their children, Haiden, 8, Emily, 5, Olivia, 2, and Avery, 10 months, milk 47 cows on their dairy near Spring Valley.
    On May 13, Ryan did most of the chores himself. Other days, he has help from his dad, who mixes feed and feeds calves. Molly teaches agriculture and is an FFA advisor in Rochester and also works part time through the Land O’Lakes supplemental work opportunity program on the Truterra team.
    Like most days, May 13 started around 5 a.m. with Molly preparing for school and getting Olivia and Avery ready for daycare. Ryan, Haiden and Emily woke up around 6 a.m. to prepare for their day. Molly left at 6:30 a.m. to drop off the two youngest kids at daycare before driving to Rochester for the school day. At 7:10 a.m., Ryan and the two oldest kids drove from their rental house in town to the farm where the bus picks them up at 7:20 a.m. The Kapperses are in the process of building a house on the farm, upgrading from the old farmhouse they lived in on the farmsite before moving it to prepare for the new house.
    “This will be our own home, one we have gotten to pick out and decide on together,” Molly said. “We are excited to be settled back on the farm again once it’s done.”
    After Haiden and Emily left, Ryan started chores for the day. During the warmer months of the year, the cows stay outside and are only in the barn for milking. Ryan brought the cows in from the pasture and started milking by 8 a.m.  
    Although Ryan has been dairying full time since he and Molly graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2010, ownership is new to him. Right out of college, Ryan worked for his parents until they liquidated their herd in September 2020 and sold the farm to Ryan and Molly. On Oct. 1, the young couple started fresh.
    “We basically started from scratch,” Ryan said. “I like being able to make my own decisions now.”
    With different breeding goals than his parents, Ryan wanted to fill the barn with more production-focused cows. He chooses bulls based on production and health traits, and milk must be 1,200 pounds or more along with all positive components. Productive life must be +5 or higher, and daughter pregnancy rate has to be at least +0.5.
    “I want cows that can milk,” Ryan said. “I need to be able to make a living.”
    He and Molly had 10 recently-purchased cows on their first official day of owning their dairy. Since then, Ryan bought cows from 14 different places to fill the stalls.
    “I bought some good cows, but I also bought whatever I could find for pretty cheap,” he said. “Now that the barn is almost full, I can buy better cows and start culling a few.”
    As his herd grows, Ryan hopes to sustain it with his own replacements and continue working to achieve his goal of a 28,000-pound rolling herd average.
    On the herd’s most recent DHIA test, the cows averaged 77 pounds of milk per cow per day with 4% fat, 3.4% protein and a 50,000 somatic cell count. Ryan is excited to watch as his production continues to increase, he said.
    As the milkers were on the last few cows in the barn May 13, Ryan started mixing feed and feeding calves. Ryan said 10 years ago, his dad had been buying milk replacer for the heifers and giving the bulls milk from the tank.
    “The bulls were healthier and bigger than the heifers so we started giving them all milk from the tank,” he said. “They grow really well.”
    Ryan finished the calf chores and milking before putting feed into the outside bunks for the cows.
    A big challenge right now is the price of feed. The Kapperses buy all their feed on top of purchasing used equipment because they started with none. So far, they have been able to buy a tractor, manure spreader and TMR mixer, and will soon buy a skidloader so Ryan no longer needs to borrow his dad’s.
    “There is a lot of expense to start up,” Ryan said.
    In addition to increasing the RHA, one of the Kapperses’ short-term goals is to pay debt down. In the long term, they hope to upgrade to a parlor or milking robots.
    After putting feed in the bunk, Ryan turned the cows out after milking and cleaned the barn.
    Around noon, Ryan cleaned out the maternity pen and put down fresh bedding before putting the close-up cows back in.
    “I was a little anxious with moving cows with the construction of the new house,” Ryan said. “If they get out and get on the cement they poured today, we’ll have a problem. I can’t wait until they have the house framed.”  
    He then scraped the barnyard and hauled the manure to the field in order to prepare for planting the next day.
    At 2:30 p.m., the school bus dropped off Haiden and Emily, who then spent time reading in the Kapperses van while Ryan finished hauling manure.
    After Molly’s school day, she picked up Olivia and Avery from daycare and arrived to the farm around 4:30 p.m. Most evenings, the family spends this time together doing chores, talking about their day and playing outside. Molly also runs any errands that need to be done.
    “She does so much for us,” Ryan said about Molly. “We are lucky to have her.”
    Haiden and Emily helped bring cows up from the pasture for evening milking. Usually they also help feed the cows and get ready for milking, but on May 13, they had to leave early to get to their 6 p.m. soccer practice.  
    Ryan finished the day with milking at 7 p.m. and returned home to spend time with the family, eat dinner and get ready for bed.
    While the days have been long and physically exhausting, Ryan and Molly feel so happy to be able to live their dairy farming dream.
    “We now have the autonomy to work toward goals we see for the farm, and already seeing them after seven months is very encouraging,” Molly said. “To see Ryan excited about farming again and see his dream out makes my heart swell the most. It feels like we can fly from here.”