Three Minnesota farming couples tell about their love for their careers

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Their dairy operations differ in size, parlor design and cow housing, but the three couples featured in a recent Midwest Dairy Expo educational session have one thing in common: They all love their farming careers.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Their dairy operations differ in size, parlor design and cow housing, but the three couples featured in a recent Midwest Dairy Expo educational session have one thing in common: They all love their farming careers.

Nick and Tara Meyer of Sauk Centre, Minn., Mark and Diane Fjelstad of Zumbro Falls, Minn., and Andrew and Chelsa Golberg of Deer Creek, Minn., talked about the challenges young dairy producers face and their vision for their operations during one of the expo's recent educational sessions.

'Get off Daddy's farm'

Mark Fjelstad worked with his father on the family farm following high school but, when his father decided not to expand, he moved to Wisconsin to work on another dairy.

Mark and Diane Fjelstad managed a dairy in Wisconsin for four years before returning to Minnesota and purchasing Mark's home farm from his parents in 2004. They are glad they had the experience.


In fact, it's their advice to new producers.

"Get off Daddy's farm," Mark Fjelstad says. "That was the best education.

When the Fjelstads returned to Zumbro Falls, they brought 12 cows and built a four-row sand-bedded free-stall barn and a double-six step-up walk-through parlor.

In August 2004, they moved 80 cows to the free-stall barn and started milking in the new parlor. The next year, they remodeled the free-stall barn and converted it to sand. They began three-times-a-day milking in December.

They doubled the herd in 2005 to 160 and, in 2007, built a transition barn for far-off and pre-fresh cows. The herd numbers increased again to 200 cows.

Remodeling the farm

Andrew Golberg got his start when he and his parents decided to remodel the farm's 45-cow tie-stall dairy barn into a swing-10 milking parlor. The decision was made during winter 2004 and spring 2005. A loafing cattle shed was retrofitted into a compost barn designed to hold about 50 cows, he says.

The cows came in October 2005. Because Golberg had one year left at the University of Minnesota, his father and a neighbor did the chores. Golberg came home on weekends and breaks.


The farm has grown to 110 cows and he's added to the compost barn once and built a sand-bedded free-stall to house an additional 52 cows, pre-fresh cows and a maternity pen.

He married his wife, Chelsa, in 2007. They bought a 40-acres farm only two miles from the dairy. They raise heifers there from 350 pounds to breeding age.

Farm management

Nick and Tara Meyer are farming Nick's home farm.

His parents purchased 200 acres and the farmsite including a small dairy barn, hog barn and chicken coop in 1965. His parents raised three boys and three girls. Nick, the youngest, was the only one interested in farming.

"Throughout my life, I always wanted to be on the farm helping," he says.

He began the farm transfer process with his parents and started leasing the farm in 2003. He had 120 cows and the farm's equipment, he says.

They built a 143 stall free-stall barn that summer and a parlor. They milk 170 cows twice a day.


Each couple developed their dairying skills in different ways. Nick Meyer attended Ridgewater College in Hutchinson, Minn., and majored in farm operations and management with an emphasis on dairy. Tara Meyer attended the University of Minnesota, majoring in applied economics and minoring in animal science. She has just received her master's degree in business administration.

Andrew Golberg's interest in dairying started in high school when he worked on a 125 cow tie-stall dairy. After high school he attended the University of Minnesota-Crookston for two years. He worked on a 50-cow dairy transitioning to certified organic production. The work experience on different types and sizes of dairy farms gave him a broad scope of the business. He gained an insight on management that he hopes to incorporate on his farm. He transferred to the University of Minnesota, where he earned a degree in animal science with a dairy production emphasis.

Mark Fjelstad says he graduated from the school of hard knocks.

The Golbergs' goal for their first three years of dairying was to keep the bulk tank full and cull rate low. They focused on healthy cows, they say. They've now reached their goal of having a consistent supply of raised replacements and are enjoying the extra milk and ability to cull some cows they had been forced to keep.

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