Norbert Brown grew up farming. He liked dairying and was attentive to his cows, earning wide recognition for his efforts.
Brown is the twelfth of 13 siblings. When his dad bought a farm near Grey Eagle in 1979, Brown and his younger sister, Felicia, were the only ones still at home.
The Browns raised pigs, beef cattle and some fed-out steers. Some of that had changed after Brown’s father lost a hand to a corn picker in 1970.
“He’d yell at us quite a bit after that — he was very safety-conscious,” said Brown.
He took over the Grey Eagle farm in 1990, after his father’s death.
“I got the idea to start milking — I thought it would be a better operation for the farm, better income,” he said. “I built the barn in 1992.”
He continued expanding, building a hay shed in 1993 and the first silo in 1995. A second silo was built in 1997. In 1998, he added a shed for dry cows, and built a large machine shed in 1999.
Brown was very attentive to his cows, earning a spot on the Minnesota Dairy Herd Improvement Association’s (DHIA) Top 100 list for eight years with a low somatic cell count (SCC).
“I cleaned every bed and the stalls every day,” he said. “I did all my own milking. When I started wearing milking gloves, that helped; they stay cleaner than bare hands.”
Brown also took care to get a good dip on the cows’ teats before milking, with Bovadine 1/2 percent.
“Then I wiped with a paper towel and stripped each teat before putting the milker on,” he said. “When the cow was done, I’d post-dip in Bovadine
Brown used a one-touch milking unit and paid close attention to his cows.
“I would be ready to take the milker off before it beeped,” he said. “I turned it off before removing it; it almost fell off the cow. It’s not so hard on the teats that way.”
Doing all his own milking, he worked into a routine with three cows at a time.
He observed that if the cows are not dipped too far ahead of time, they milk better.
“I used to CMT (California mastitis test) all my fresh cows,” he said. “At first I just tested the cows that looked like they might have a problem. Then I started to test all of them, to get a jump on problems.”
In 2002, he was surprised to find himself on the cover of the DHIA annual summary book, having the lowest SCC herd in the state. He was recognized for that again in 2009.
But in 2007, he had both rotator cuff surgery and a hernia repair. In 2010, he had surgery on the other rotator cuff.
“I was physically and mentally drained after that,” he said. “I decided to sell the cows.”
Farming without the dairying is “different.”
“I miss it; it was pretty tough selling the cows,” said Brown. “But you just do what you can do. I had just about 20 years on my own.”
Now, Brown is working on building a beef herd. He has 14 head of Angus and is trying to keep the heifers while feeding out the steers.
“I told a neighbor I was going to have 100 cows, and that would keep me until I’m ready for Social Security, if it’s still there,” he said.
He grows corn, oats, soybeans and hay. After he started round-baling in 2011, he found he can do his own haying.
“I can bale three times as much in a day,” he said. “I also bale corn straw, which makes pretty good bedding if it’s dry. It’s coarser than straw and takes three times as much, but it works well in the sheds.”
Farming is more than a job for Brown. It isn’t the awards and recognition that give him satisfaction. He farms because he loves it.
“I like being outside; I always liked the cows,” Brown said. “I even like picking rock. I’ll farm until they plant me in the ground.”