"Where Fillmore County News Comes First"
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Back on the farm

Tue, Jun 6th, 2000
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Monday, June 5, 2000

At five oclock every morning Melissa King gets up and goes to work and most days she doesnt get done until eight oclock in the evening. For Melissa, who is 26, and one of Fillmore Countys new-est dairy farmers, its a job that she wouldnt trade for any other in the world.

"I enjoy being outside and working with the cattle," she said recently during an afternoon break. "I like everything about dairying. I definitely see this as my career."

Melissa attended the University of Wisconsin at River Falls where she majored in broad area agriculture and took a double minor in horticulture and animal science. After graduating in 1997, she brought her degrees back to Sumner Township in northwest Fillmore County, where she grew up, and purchased 240 acres, about a mile from her parents (Les & Jesse King) farm.

"We milk right around 100 cows," Melissa said, "and I own thirty of those."

The milking barn, located at her parents place, was built about twenty years ago and has forty tie stalls in it, which makes it necessary to run three different groups of cows through it for each milking. Melissa usually does the milking, handling five milkers at once, while Les does the feeding and Jesse keeps busy with the calf chores. Its definitely a family affair.

The Kings maintain a Grade A operation and sell their milk to the Plainview Co-op, from where it is marketed as a BST-free product. BST stands for bovine somatotropin and is a protein hormone produced in the pituitary gland of cattle. A synthetic version of BST is manufactured by Monsanto and its use was approved in 1993.

According to the USDA the average milk production per cow has increased 20% in the last ten years. The use of BST, along with improved nutrition management and more intensive management practices are the leading factors that have contributed to this increased production.

For Melissa, the BST approach just isnt worth it. "I feel that in giving all those shots youre going to end up stressing the cows out," she said. "I would rather not be pushing them to their max and have them last longer in the herd."

This spring Melissa has been taking some of the weekday evenings off as shes been coaching track at Stewartville High School. Shes also putting her horticulture expertise to use by raising vegetables and flowers and selling them at Rochesters Saturday morning farmers market.

"Ive gone three weeks now and sold out of what Ive had each time," Melissa said. "You can ask me at the end of the season if its been profitable."

Dairying though, is Melissas passion and even the low prices of the past few months do not appear to have dampened her enthusiasm.

"Theres always the ups and downs," she said philosophically, "Were at a long down right now and things do seem a bit uncertain, but the prices will come back."

Hoards Dairyman released a report last week showing that the average milk price paid to farmers in March, 2000, was down 22 percent from 1999. On the other hand, dairy retail prices were down only 1.5 percent. While the price paid to farmers for their milk in 2000 has fallen well below $10 per hundred weight (cwt) the USDA calculated in its most recent economic research report that the cost of production for the average dairy farm in the Upper Midwest was $12.15 cwt.

"Its a tricky figure," Fillmore County Extension Agent Jerry Tesmer told the Journal, "some farmers cost of production is around eight dollars per hundredweight while others are as high as fifteen dollars."

Tesmer pointed out that the Minnesota state agricultural statistics in 1987 showed that Fillmore County had 468 dairy farms with 19,921 milk cows. By 1998, the number of dairy farms had fallen to 286 with a total number of milk cows at 16,400.

"Weve got producers in the county who are optimistic about the dairy future and who are looking to expand," Tesmer said. "Theres others who will likely get out of the business once their facilities need too much updating."

Its a decision facing Melissa King, too, as she con-templates her future in the in-dustry. The present milking facility is adequate for the cur-rent herd size, she pointed out, but doesnt leave many options for expansion.

"Its a challenge just keeping the herd around 100 cows," she said. "but if we go much over that Id consider building a milking parlor."

One thing that is certain is Melissas enthusiasm for her future in the dairy industry. And another thing thats equally certain is that come five oclock tomorrow morning Melissa will be on her way out to the start the days milking. She wouldnt have it any other way.

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