Brandon Zemke
Zumbrota, Minnesota
Goodhue County
70 cows
How did you get into farming? My wife, Alydia, and I were born and raised in dairy farming. My parents had this farm and sold the cows in 2002. Alydia’s parents farm near Oak Center where they milk 200 cows. We always enjoyed dairy farming; I had worked for dairy farms all throughout high school, and my wife did in college. So, we were both constantly in dairy, and we wanted to farm but had to find a way to dairy farm without breaking the bank. So, we bought the farm here in 2014, did some renovating and started farming.

What are your thoughts and concerns about the dairy industry for the next year? The virus is probably going to rule the hen house again this year. And, volatility has always been there in dairy.

What is the latest technology you implemented on your farm and the purpose for it? We started testing cows five months ago and got on with AgSource. Through testing, we were able to keep track of each individual cow.

What is a management practice you changed in the past year that has benefited you? We breed everything to beef so all our calves are beef calves. That helped me tremendously because with the manpower that we had here and all the work that came with it, we were stretched too thin. So, for our replacement heifers, we are buying back springers, and everything is sold as a beef calf right now. That’s helped free me up a lot for the day.

What cost-saving steps have you implemented during the low milk price? In the big picture of everything, milk prices have been pretty darn good this year. We always try to be as energy efficient as we possibly can. Because the fuel prices are going sky high right now, the milk house is a little cooler, once the skidloader is warmed up, we are shutting it off more, and the house is a few degrees lower.

How do you retain a good working relationship with your employees? It’s me and my wife, so we practice listening first before talking and try to be as patient as possible. With cows, sometimes patience is hard to remember to bring to the table, but you have to bring patience to the table.

Tell us about a skill you possess that makes dairy farming easier for you. A lot of motivation and high energy. A lot of my peers I grew up with all throughout high school and competed against, so I’ve always tried to keep up stride for stride with those guys.

What do you enjoy most about dairy farming? The lifestyle, always having your family around. It’s definitely not the money. It’s straight up the lifestyle, always seeing your kids and your wife is hands down No. 1 for me.

What advice would you give other dairy farmers? Dairy farming is definitely not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Sometimes when I feel like I’m in a bad situation, I have to calm myself down, take a deep breath, and remember that I will work through it. Try not to get too worked up about things. Not every day is going to be peaches and cream. You have to take the good with the bad, and on the bad days, you just have to keep going. Sometimes bad days are not fun, but you have to keep motoring through.

What has been the best purchase you have ever made on your farm? A tie between a skidloader and a TMR mixer. The skidloader is a cheap right-hand man. For our TMR, we used to have an older style electronic bunk, and you could kind of get it in the ballpark for feeding rates, but with these new ones, you can get feeding rates right on the money. So, we bought the TMR, ripped out the electronic bunk and now we have a drive-by H bunk. We feel as though we’re not guessing anymore when feeding animals.

What has been your biggest accomplishment while dairy farming? Juggling daily life with my wife and our sons, Norman, 3, and Melvin, 1, with chores and everything.

What are your plans for your dairy in the next year and five years? To keep farming for the next year. Within the next five years, we definitely want to get into sand-bedded free stalls. Right now, we’re on a bedding pack, so the labor is intense. We’d have cleaner cows. That is one thing that bothers me about the bedding pack is you bed them every single day and they’re still dirty. I miss seeing real, nice, clean cows when they’re on sand.

How do you or your family like to spend time when you are not doing chores? Hanging out as a family. On Sundays, we go to church and spend a lot more time together. We don’t go very far so we try to have nice, good family time after every evening milking.