For Minnesota’s Mielke dairy family, successful farming together means an eye on the cows, attention to everything about them, and awareness of the future, all the time.
Loren, Barb and Clint operate a 170-head conventional Holstein dairy operation just outside of St. Cloud, Minnesota, with an address of Sauk Rapids, the northern neighbor town, to be specific. Pine Grove Farms is a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River, and all told, encompasses 995 acres.
“They’re very good producers, top-notch producers,” says Mark Rohr, their National Farmers dairy field service representative. “They’re forward, and open to new ways of doing things, but they have a good blend and awareness of tradition and tried and true methods.”
Loren and Barb raised their family on the farm, with Clint, and his sisters, Christa and Cara. Today, Clint has started his own family, with his wife, Jade. They have two children, Hailey, 2 ½ years, and Stella, an infant.
The home base farm is where the milking action happens, and three other farm sites are home to the heifers. Loren milks morning and evening, with a morning hired hand and an evening hired hand, and Clint, milking, as well.
Clint also works with the feeding side of the operation, assuring the total mixed ration is just what the milk cows (and heifers) ordered. Barb cares for the calves and assures the accounting responsibilities stay up-to-date, using the Compeer financial software. Compeer is part of the U.S. Farm Credit System.
The three work well together, Rohr says, appreciating each others’ knowledge areas on the operation. “They recognize the others’ strengths and build on that. You can tell when you talk to them that they have a lot of respect for one another,” he says.
2018 Crop Plans
In Minnesota, spring resisted appearing until nearly the end of April, but crop plans roll along despite that. Across their land, the family typically plants crops on the 600 tillable acres, with about 150 acres of pasture and remaining lake and other unusable land. For 2018, the Mielkes planned for 340 acres corn, 73 acres beans, 40 acres oats and alfalfa. Oats are the nursing crop for alfalfa.
The Mielkes eventually feed much of those crops back into the dairy operation, and into the cattle feeding operation. Pine Grove Farms has 50 steers on feed continuously, using bull calves to supply that. For marketing the steers, they work with the St. Cloud National Farmers Marketing Center. They also market all of their cull cows through our St. Cloud facility.
In the parlor, Mielkes use a computerized milking system, entering each cow’s number, and during each milking session the system registers milk quantity and temperature. The system’s graphing feature provides valuable data, and during milking, the graph climbs, peaks and goes back down, Loren explained.
Mielke then checks to see if the cow’s temperature would be more than 101 degrees, showing something could be brewing with the cow’s health, such as mastitis, or heat. If there’s a more significant concern, the milker red alert feature activates, and the milker comes off.
Loren knows he and other farmers focus on handling every aspect of their operations expertly. “We just try to keep everything the right way as well as you can,” he says. In February, the milking system company maintained Pine Grove Farms’ whole system. The company representative took it apart and cleaned it, including all the rubber parts and pulsators. They took apart every claw, just to keep things clean and to keep bacteria down. And the representative tested every individual milking attachment to assure the vacuum functioned properly.
“You try to keep a system fully checked to assure everything's up-to-code, and replace what needs to be replaced,” Loren adds.
Loren says beyond the milking system, for heat and health issue detection, they pay attention to the herd. They watch all the livestock, noting animal behavior clues about each cow’s status. Personal attention and technology combined make the best cow care.
The Mielkes follow a well-planned pregnancy program for their cows, and their veterinarian visits monthly. The hoof trimmer calls on the farm about every six weeks for the cows that need it.
“We try to keep them healthy, with good rations of dry hay, haylage, corn silage, high moisture corn and concentrate,” Loren says.
Mielkes follow a full vaccination program on their operation. Heifers receive the full respiratory series, including Inforce. For example, when the cows are dry, they get vaccinated. They receive shots against leptospirosis and scours. Then, for the calves, when they take colostrum from the mother cow, that calf gets her vaccine with the milk. Prevention matters.
Pine Grove Farms produces 150 calves a year, and they assure those little spotted babies enjoy their own special home, using the previous milking parlor converted into accommodations just for them. Pens are segregated by age and calf size, and new calves find their homes next to the maternity pen. “We feed them the colostrum right away,” Loren says.
As they grow, they go to the new calf barn, where a Lely automatic calf feeder helps with the chores. When new, smaller calves move into the calf barn, they move out the bigger ones, so the younger ones don’t get pushed around.
Like the calves that went before them, each one eventually moves to other buildings on the farm. Heifers move every three months. First, they go across the street from the main dairy farmstead, then to the farm at Loren’s mother’s, then to Clint’s, where the bull is, then nine or 10 months later, they’re in the milking system. That completes the circle that leads a newborn calf through heifer life, and raises her to become a dairy cow.
The Mielkes’ attention to that circle means each cow accomplishes her purpose, producing milk for America’s glasses and favorite dairy treats.
Pine Grove Farms – Planning Toward Transition
The farm tradition and livelihood legacy is living in its second generation now at Pine Grove Farm, as Loren Mielke transitioned into the operation through his dad. Assuring it continues through Clint means planning for the transition now, many years ahead of when Loren and Barb intend to retire. “It’s what you want to do, is pass the farm on to the next generation,” Loren says.
The plans are established, and the family met with a tax adviser in April to prepare more for the changes in that regard. Pine Grove Farms, Inc., the main farm, with parlor, buildings, cows and equipment, moves gradually to Clint. Later, the land transition steps will begin.
Loren is aware of the special circumstances in their location, as farmers everywhere need to be. “We’re in a different spot, about four miles north of St. Cloud, and it doesn’t take long to get to town,” he says.
With high taxes, the Green Acres Program with their county, helps them stay on the land, Loren says. The program provides the Mielkes with property tax relief, because they live and farm in an area where the market value of their land is affected by non-farming influences. In the program, those factors include concerns such as development pressure or recreational land sales.
Loren is 56 years old, and says he feels like he just got the farm himself, even though it happened in 1988. That doesn’t change his position about preparing in advance, however. “You don’t want to wait until you’re sick to make a decision,” he emphasizes. “A lot of people wait until they’re 60 or 70 and get sick to do something. If something would happen, we’d already have something in the works,” Loren says.