Sometimes when you think you are still young, God puts you in a 15-passenger van with seniors in college. Although I feel like I am part of the pro-technology crowd, the group's use of Snapchat, "dropping pins" (to share locations through Google Maps), and new expressions reminded me that I am in fact no longer an undergraduate.
That being said, the future looks bright. Of the 28 seniors we accompanied to California, most were shoring up job prospects during or shortly after the trip. About 50% of the students were from a farm, and 25% were hoping to return to a farm, whether or not they were from one originally. I interviewed two of those returning to the farm, hopefully now or later, about when and how they came to their decision.
For Andrew Miron, Hugo, Minn. , the decision was easy and made long ago.
"I always enjoyed working at home when I was a kid," Miron said. "I liked being outside. I was always fond of the opportunity to work with family; I think that's one of the most crucial things about my childhood that I enjoyed."
With many family members heading to the University of Minnesota, he knew that was where he was heading, too. It was just deciding which field to major in.
"I went into animal science with a pre-veterinary emphasis," Miron explained. "My hope was to go to vet school and return home to do vet work on our farm and others" too."
But after the first year of school, Andrew didn't like the idea of staying for 8 years. He switched his major to dairy production, after an understanding between his dad, Fran, and Andrew's brother, Paul, that he intended to return home after college.
Fran took over the farm from his brother and grandfather about 40 years ago. When Andrew, the youngest Miron, was born, there were about 50 cows and six kids in the family to take care of the farm. He said it was always an expectation that you would help out where you could.
Paul, Miron's brother who is now on the farm full-time, went to diesel mechanics school and returned home full-time in 2009. With 850 acres the spring season is especially busy.
They started calving all heifers in the spring, milking 100 cows through the summer, and culling dairy animals back to about 60 to fit in their barn during the winter. The farm has added onto their barn, built a calf nursery and heifer shed to keep growing internally.
On the trip to California, Miron was especially impressed with the emphasis on cow comfort, keeping cows clean and dry, no matter the dairy. He was also interested to hear about the benefits of a rotary to cow comfort.
"We're looking to build another housing facility for our cattle, whether it's a bedded pack barn or freestall barn for our cows," Miron explained, noting they still milk in a stanchion barn. "After California, I'm confident that building a bedded pack barn will be best for us in the future. I thought it was interesting that farms there had both freestalls and dry lots for the summer. Talking with most of the dairymen about that, many said that the cows did better on the dry lots except for the higher temperature."
Farther down the road they hope to build a parlor.
Andrew Miron can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I always enjoyed working at home when I was a kid. I liked being outside. I was always fond of the opportunity to work with family; I think that's one of the most crucial things about my childhood that I enjoyed." - Andrew Miron
It was also an easy career decision for Abby Mills, from a 300-cow dairy near Lake City, Minn. When she left for college, she had no doubt she wanted to be an elementary education teacher.
But four years and two colleges later, she feels like home is calling.
"Before my sophomore spring semester, I came home from winter break and asked my dad if I could take on more with the farm. This is when I discovered I wanted to follow in his footsteps and be a part of the dairy industry."
A few days into the extra work, Abby realized she liked this side of dairy farming.
"Once I got more responsibility and I figured out I could do it, that's what I decided I want to do," Mills said.
That winter break made her change colleges for the second time. She set out with an early childhood education major at South Dakota State University, then wanted to be closer to home and specialized
on communicative disorders at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. Being closer to home got her more interested in dairy, and since she had heard good things about the University of Minnesota, she headed to the dairy science program in St. Paul.
Mills" home farm is run by her parents, Kent and Debbie, who started a 300-cow farm after buying the herd from Kent's parents. They transitioned from 150-cows to 300 by moving the home herd and buying additional cattle seven years ago. The family milks 3X with a few employees, including Abby and two younger sisters, Maggie and Libby.
Despite starting at the other end of the education spectrum, Mills got involved in dairy – fast.
"I was with a whole different group of friends," Mills explained, "So although I wanted to get involved in the dairy industry at my other colleges, the opportunity never came up.
"As soon as I came to the ‘U" and saw the friends I grew up with in 4-H and FFA in the Gopher Dairy Club, it was easy to jump in," she said. Mills will also compete as one of four members of the University's Dairy Challenge team at this year's national competition in Syracuse, N.Y.
Reflecting on California, Mills joked that the first thing she wanted to do was grow more almond trees on her farm.
"Actually, I looked a lot at the management side of the farms we visited. At 300 cows, we need to decide if we want to manage cows or manage people – we're kind of at that transition dairy," Mills said. "We're looking for more people to come into the farm, hopefully me, eventually. So I am always thinking about how we can make work more efficient on our farm, and I think many of the producers gave tips that I can bring back home."
"I looked at the management styles, because that was a generic aspect of the California dairies that I could apply to farming in Minnesota," she said.
Mills is interning with Broadhead, a Minneapolis-based marketing agency, this spring. If she sticks with the plan of returning home, she said she sees the value of first working in the industry for a few years, but depending on how big of a need there is at home.
For future college students and those deciding on careers, Mills" change of environment allows her to provide some advice. "If the opportunity is there, go for it," Mills suggests. "Even if you do change your mind a million times – it's okay. Eventually you're going to get there."
Abby Mills can be contacted at email@example.com.
"Before my sophomore spring semester, I came home from winter break and asked my dad if I could take on more with the farm. This is when I discovered I wanted to follow in his footsteps and be part of the dairy industry." -Abby Mills
Photos courtesy Sonja's Studio, Hayfield, Minn.