By Jennie Zeitler
Three generations of the Deters family keep busy with their dairy between West Union and Sauk Centre. There is always something to do with 575 cows to milk.
Jeff and Karen, along with eldest son Shane and his wife, Amanda, set up the farm operation as a limited liability company (LLC) in 2013.
“We had started to get our wills set up and do other estate planning,” Jeff said. “We work with Mike Mastey, a farm business management instructor.”
The biggest challenge that Karen noted was Jeff (who has never lived off the farm) giving up control to the LLC.
“It’s kind of complicated, understanding how the LLC works,” Karen said. “It’s making decisions by discussion, instead of just him deciding to do things.”
Amanda took over the bookkeeping and payroll and is working closely with Mastey.
The century farm was established in 1895 by Jeff’s great-grandfather and then farmed by Jeff’s grandfather, Henry.
Jeff’s father, Bernard, is still helping out on the farm, though he calls himself an “errand runner.”
“He kept farming some of the land until about 1995,” Jeff said. “Then he helped us all the time. He still does errands, some tractor driving, checks fences and tinkers with stuff.”
Jeff bought the cows from his dad in 1981. He rented the farm buildings and some of the land. He and Karen lived just across the road for their first five years of married life, then moved to the old house in 1984, after Jeff’s parents built a new home across the road.
Jeff bought the farm in 1990, and he and Karen built a new, larger house in 1994. With eight children, the room was needed.
The farm’s original barn was replaced with a new barn when Jeff was 2 — a stanchion barn for 40 cows.
“When I was in sixth grade, we changed from a bucket milker to a pipeline milker,” Jeff said.
The first thing Jeff did after buying the farm was to build a silo. Next came an addition to the barn, which increased their milking capacity to 80 cows.
After renting some equipment from his dad for a number of years, Jeff started buying some of his own equipment in about 1987.
Not too long after the addition to the barn, it was remodeled for tie stalls. A few years later, the Deters started grain farming, and built the first of the grain bins.
Once Shane finished high school and his parents saw that he was truly interested in farming with them, they encouraged him to work off the farm.
“We told him he had to go work somewhere else for a while so he would know what it was like to work for someone else,” said Jeff.
“He came back here after about four months and wanted to continue farming,” said Karen. “Then he went to Ridgewater’s two-year dairy management program, with an added semester for a business degree.”
Around that time the Deters family began a major expansion that they’re still working on. In fall of 2001, they bought a new herd, bringing the number of cows being milked up to 160.
In February 2002, a new barn was completed with free stalls and by April they had purchased two more herds of cows, bringing the total to 320. They also bought 75 heifers from a different farmer.
After a couple of “miserable” years of milking by rotation, they completed their parlor transition to a double 12 parallel parlor. They had also added an office, a break room and a rest room.
“Before that, Jeff sat on a bucket with a cardboard box as a desk,” said Karen with a chuckle.
“We added to the free stall barn in 2007, and now are milking 575,” said Jeff. “We did the whole project in steps to keep the costs down.”
“I can’t imagine doing anything different,” Karen said. “It’s the best place to raise a family.”
“Ever since I was little I was a ‘cow nut,’” said Jeff. “I loved the cows and still do.”