GIBBON, Minn. – When Arlen Bode and his family decided to enroll in the Minnesota Dairy Initiative program nearly 20 years ago, it was a decision they were sure of and one they have not looked back on.
“You work with a lot of these guys weekly, but seldom was there ever a chance you had the vet and nutritionist, or say the hoof trimmer, all together,” Arlen said. “You get things done when you have the person you have the question for sitting across the table. That was one thing we were after, and still are today.”
Arlen and his family milk 600 cows at Bode Dairy and Feedlots Co. in Sibley County near Gibbon. The family corporation includes Arlen, his brother, Vance, and their mother, Lois, as the primary partners; Arlen’s son, Cody, has been with the farm for 10 years. Arlen’s wife, Becky, and daughter, Niki Svingen, also help with payroll and bookwork. Arlen has another son, Brandon, who has an off-the-farm job but helps occassionally.
The Bodes raise their replacements and also feed out steers to market weight.
Since 2002, the Bode family has used their MDI team to generate healthy discussions and come to sustainable decisions for the betterment of their farm.
“We’ve been with the program for a while, and a lot of it is to talk about herd management and communicating with everybody who does work here, the feeding, the breeding and health, everything,” Arlen said.
In a typical meeting, which the Bodes schedule almost quarterly for a couple hours at a time, their MDI coordinator, veterinarian, agronomist, nutritionist, banker and farm business management instructor all attend.
“It’s super beneficial because we have people on our team who work across Minnesota. They work with different herd sizes and operations,” Cody said. “Instead of having me, Dad, Vance and Grandma talking through an issue, we have all these people throwing around ideas, options we can talk about and agree or disagree.”
Over the course of nearly 20 years, the Bodes have worked with their team to make significant changes in the way their dairy is managed.
Since 2002, most notably, Bode Dairy has doubled its herd size and increased milking frequency from twice a day to three times a day, updated housing facilities and put in a manure separator.
“Reproduction has seen a big improvement, and production is up from where it was originally,” Arlen said.
The family’s latest focus has been on their workforce, which includes 12 full-time employees. Through the routine meetings, the Bodes’ goals were to stress the importance of consistency when it comes to milking cows and scraping the barns.    
“We opened up (that topic) at one meeting and talked about employee management,” Cody said. “We came up with incentives for consistency.”
Arlen agreed.
“We have spent a lot of time on that, training and going over protocols,” he said. “We’re hoping these incentives that we talked about as a group will also help.”
Delving into each objective the Bodes have is part of the MDI team’s purpose, but they do it in a way that is fun and result-driven, Arlen said.
“It’s a good group of people,” he said. “We can be open with them, and we don’t have to worry about the discussion leaving the table. We have a good time; it’s not all just business.”
What the Bodes appreciate most is the ability to accomplish goals for the farm business without putting more responsibility on themselves.
“We bounce ideas around, and you can spread the task out so there are several members investigating something rather than you doing it all yourself,” Arlen said. “That’s what’s nice.”
As the Bodes have worked with their MDI team for past projects on the farm, they are doing the same in the years ahead. Within the next five years, the family would like to build a farm shop, construct a dry cow barn and upgrade the milking parlor.
Cody’s cousin is also looking to return to the family operation.
“For the shop and dry cow barn, we’ve already looked at a couple other dairies our nutritionist and vet lined up to tour,” Arlen said. “As we get closer to building, we’ll do more farm tours.”
Cody agreed.
“It’ll be the same process for the parlor,” he said. “We’ll want to involve our team with all of these decisions.”
For nearly 100 years, the Bodes have worked to carry on the family business in a way that is sustainable and profitable with industry trends. And in the last 20 years, those objectives have been achievable with the surefire guidance of MDI.
“It’s just a really great environment,” said Cody of the team. “Everyone wants to see the dairy succeed.”