47 years of dairy farming

O’Brien credits family for longevity

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KASSON, Minn. — Patrick O’Brien is closing in on five decades of milking cows on his family farm near Kasson.

O’Brien milks 65 cows and tends 300 acres on the farm he has called home since he was about 5 years old.

O’Brien said the things he looks back on as accomplishments are marrying and raising a family, surviving in the dairy industry and maintaining a well-kept farm.

“I’m stubborn,” O’Brien said. “I’m not a quitter even though maybe sometimes I should be.”

O’Brien said he credits his family for his longevity. He said he could not have done it without his wife, Emma, and children, Sarah, Elizabeth, Stephen, Morgan, Bradley and Matthew.

“It was a good place to raise a family,” O’Brien said. “(It) teaches them dedication, how to work ... how to be a teammate.”

O’Brien’s children were all part of the farm.

“They can do it all,” O’Brien said.

Most of O’Brien’s children live in the greater southeast Minnesota area. They work off the farm but some of those in the area help daily. At haying time, his children help him to put up 4,000-5,000 small square bales and with filling silos.

O’Brien said he also credits his parents, nine siblings, neighbors, friends, the animals on his farm and God for enabling him to continue dairy farming.

O’Brien started his career farming with his siblings. He and his older brother took over the farm from their dad in 1977.

Then, he farmed with two brothers until one was killed in a farm accident.

“It seems like forever since you saw him, but it’s just like yesterday that it happened,” O’Brien said.

In 2005, O’Brien started the process of buying the farm from his parents.

O’Brien milks his cows in a side-opening, 6-stall, individual-release parlor. It was built in 1962 by his dad with four stalls. Later, the last two stalls were added.

O’Brien has one employee who milks the cows at 2 a.m. and 2 p.m. O’Brien’s milking procedure starts with pre-dipping. Then, he strips the teats before pre-dipping again, wiping the udder and putting on the milker. After the cows are milked, teats are post-dipped.

O’Brien said having a mixer for a total mixed ration has been one of the most important decisions for the farm. He said it has helped with making sure they do not overfeed grain. He also said it has been an important part of his farm’s pursuit of good components.

“You could measure what you were putting in there,” O’Brien said. “Feed more of this and less of that.”

O’Brien’s cows are fed TMR twice a day along with free-choice hay.

The cows are housed on a lot with a 150-stall freestall barn. This barn was built in 2005, expanding on and replacing the previous structure.

O’Brien keeps his herd records on paper using a herd wheel. This large disc on his milkhouse wall allows him to record calving and breeding information.

He said he had a relief breeder ask him where his computer was.

“I said, ‘It’s hanging on the wall,’” O’Brien said.

O’Brien is slowing down. He has bred his Holstein cows to beef bulls for the past 18 months and has now paused breeding in anticipation of selling the herd in late summer.

O’Brien said that dairy farming has been tough recently, with few constants in the last 10 years or more.

“It was a lot better before,” O’Brien said. “It should have gotten easier for us.”

O’Brien said everyone does things differently and that he does not care what the neighbors are doing.

“You can’t look back,” he said. “You have to look forward.”

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