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It's all in the family for Minnesota's Erickson Farms

Jerry Erickson, Matthew Erickson, and Matthew’s wife, Patricia, co-own Erickson Farms, where they operate a 400-head Angus cow-calf operation, and feedlot that annually finishes about 250 head, a few miles east of Fertile. The family also raises crops for cattle feed.

The six members of the Erickson family, three men and three women, stand in front of the tractor they use to feed their cattle.
From left, Catie, Patricia, Sidney, Emery, Matthew and Jerry Erickson raise cattle and sheep on Erickson Farms near Fertile, Minnesota. Photo taken March 15, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

FERTILE, Minn. — Crops, livestock and family go hand in hand at Erickson Farms.

Six Erickson family members, representing three generations that span seven decades, work together on the farm to raise cattle, sheep, soybeans, corn and alfalfa. Each family member, from 72-year-old Jerry Erickson to his granddaughter, Sidney, 15, has jobs to do on the farm that was homesteaded in 1888.

Jerry, together with Matthew Erickson, and Matthew’s wife, Patricia, co-own Erickson Farms, where they operate a 400-head Angus cow-calf operation, and a feedlot that finishes about 250 head, a few miles east of Fertile. The family also raise crops for cattle feed.

The younger Ericksons have three children who also raise and sell livestock. Emery, 20, is building up a cattle ranch of his own. Sidney, a Fertile-Beltrami High School freshman, and her sister, Catie, a high school senior, raise and sell sheep and cattle.

Minnesota Extension named Matthew and Patricia Erickson Polk County (Minnesota) Farm Family of the Year in 2021. The couple also were North Dakota State University Outstanding Ag Honorees in 2008, and in 2015 were named one of the Top 10 Outstanding Young Farmers in the United States by the Jaycees.

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Livestock has been part of Erickson Farms' diversified operation since its beginning, but the cattle numbers have increased since Matthew Erickson returned to the farm in 1998, after he graduated from North Dakota State University in Fargo. He and Patricia were married in 2000, and she moved to the farm to join him in the operation.

Most of the 920 acres of land that the family farms does not produce high yields, so it makes economic sense to use it for production of livestock feed for the Erickson’s cattle herd, Matthew said.

A man wearing blue jeans, gray sweatshirt and black cap takes plastic off of a large hay bale.
Jerry Erickson removes plastic from baleage which will be ground and used in a ration to feed Erickson Farms' cattle. Photo taken March 15, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

“If we have a good crop, we bin the extra corn, and if we have any extra in the spring, we sell it,” he said.

Meanwhile, raising corn for livestock feed gives Erickson Farms flexibility during years when weather conditions, such as last year’s drought, reduces yields.

“Instead of cutting a fourth of our crop for silage, we cut three-fourths,” he said.

Erickson Farms chops and mixes feed made with crops grown on their acreage and only have to supplement with vitamins and minerals before they feed it to the cattle. Each day, the family grinds about 27 tons of feed and haul it to the cattle, which are located in several pastures near their farm.

Black cattle stand by their troughs as a blue tractor pulling a gay and blue feed wagon fills their troughs.
Jerry Erickson feeds one of Erickson Farms' cattle herds. The photo was taken March 15, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Erickson Farms keeps their best heifers as replacements for their herd and finishes the steers in two feedlots on their farm. The family keeps the steers until they are 16 months old, and then sells the bulk of them at a Fergus Falls, Minnesota, livestock auction, and direct-market the remaining 10 percent to customers in the Fertile area.

Jerry began the finishing operation in the late 1990s.

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“I was always disappointed when we sold calves and we didn’t get enough money for them,” he said.

Interest in buying beef directly from Erickson Farms grew over the years, then increased sharply in 2020 during the COVID pandemic. Now there’s a waiting list for it, Matthew said.

“People are interested in knowing where it comes from and who is raising it,” Patricia said.

Besides working in the cattle operation, Patricia is a full-time mail carrier for the Fertile Post Office, driving a 130-mile daily route.

When the route takes by one one of their pastures she keeps a vigilant eye on the cattle.

“I make sure where everyone is and if they’re where they’re supposed to be,” Patricia said. In the evenings, after her route, she goes out and helps with chores.

Patricia, who earned a veterinary technician degree from NDSU, also gives the livestock shots when they’re sick and works to instill in her children the importance of providing quality, responsible care for the animals.

Both she and Matthew encouraged their children to follow in their farming footsteps, giving them chores from the time they were young and enrolling them in 4-H, where they began showing livestock when they were in kindergarten. When the children were in third grade they each received a calf to raise.

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When she was 16, Catie also began raising sheep.

A gray lamb with a black face stands in front of a white ewe with a black face.
Catie and Sidney Erickson are finished lambing their herd of Suffolk X-Hampshire sheep. The photo was taken March 15, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

“I had a ewe, and people said I should breed her, and then we bought three ewes the following fall,” Catie said. She now has a herd of about 25 ewes and rams.

In 2021, she won the Minnesota FFA State Sheep Proficiency Award.

She and Sidney, who has a half dozen sheep of her own, just finished lambing.

The two sell lambs to young 4-H or FFA members who show them, direct market the lamb meat to customers or keep them as replacements to build up the herd.

Besides the sheep herd, Catie also owns 15 cows and has saved the profits she’s made for college. She plans to enroll in animal science and agriculture communications this fall at NDSU.

Her younger sister, Sidney, who owns three cows and two heifers, this summer will breed “Josie,” one of the heifers she received through the Minnesota Beef Experience program.

Emery, their older brother, has about 50 head of cattle which is the basis for the operation he is planning. He looks forward to building a purebred herd and raising breeding stock.

A black cow licks the fingers of a girl with a black jacket and blue jeans.
Sidney Erickson plans to breed "Josie," the heifer she won in a scholarship, in May. The photo was taken March 15, 2002.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

“What I really like is the genetic side — trying to figure out the perfect pair,” he said.

Patricia and Matt are happy with their children’s dedication to livestock production and are glad that they, like them, see the value in being involved in agriculture.

“I like the cattle, and I like working for myself and I like the challenge that comes with production agriculture,” Matthew said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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