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Korn family to host Dairy Days visitors to their Atwater, Minn., farm

Marshall and Melanie Korn, and their 18-month-old son Samuel, are hosting visitors who can see the 56-cow milking herd during the June 16 event, visit the calf barn and learn about how the Atwater family farmers care for their cows. (Tribune photo by Gretchen Schlosser)1 / 2
Melanie Korn helps her son Samuel attempt to pet a calf on their farm north of Atwater. Marshall and Melanie Korn will host visitors to their farm as part of the annual West Central Dairy Days celebration. The visit will be June 16, a Saturday, to encourage more attendance. (Tribune photo by Gretchen Schlosser)2 / 2

ATWATER -- Marshall and Melanie Korn, and their son Samuel, will host the Dairy Days Road Show this year at their dairy farm north of Atwater.

The annual event has been moved to a Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 16, in an effort by organizers to encourage more families and children to visit the farm.

Visitors to the Korn farm, which is three miles north of Atwater on County Road 2, will have the opportunity to walk through the tie-stall barn, visit the 56 cows who live in the barn and visit the calf barn where the Korns raise their own heifer calves.

The Korns, who purchased the 20-acre farmstead in April 2008, are looking forward to the opportunity to show folks their farm, and the work that they do to care for the cows.

"It's a good chance to let people know it's not as easy as they think (to manage a farm) and that there are still small farmers out there," Marshall Korn said.

The cows, some from the herd they purchased seven years from a retiring Pierz farmer, are so much more than just milk-producing animals to the couple, they are the family's sole livelihood on the farm and part of the family.

"They are more than 'just cows' to us," Melanie Korn said.

The couple started building their farm seven years ago, when they leased a 48-head tie-stall barn and farm in Pierz for six months until the owner decided he wanted to sell the property. They weren't ready to buy and moved their herd to a rented farm in the Chandler area for two years.

Marshall Korn, a native of Garretson, S.D., has been a dairy herdsman since he was 14 years old, and always wanted his own farm and his own cows. He met Melanie, a native of Edgerton, through friends while he attended the dairy management program at Ridgewater College in Willmar.

Both of Marshall's grandparents milked cows and Melanie's parents milked a herd in the 1980s, but neither had a "home farm" where they could begin building their own dairy farm.

So, while the couple advertised for a farm to buy, kept the word out amongst their milk inspector and suppliers and worked with Merri Post with the Southwest Minnesota Dairy Profit Group and Jim Sulfur with the University of Minnesota Extension on starting and building their now 70-cow herd, they waited for the opportunity to buy a farm.

"We were always looking for a place to buy," Marshall explained. "We kept the word out."

Finally, their milk inspector learned from a First District Association representative about the farm north of Atwater, and the couple bought the place in April 2008. They've made some improvements to the barn and milking systems, plus finished out the calf barn from a shed that had been used for horses.

The cow herd was downsized from 70 to 56 after Samuel was born 18 months ago, eliminating the need to switch cows in and out of the tie-stalls.

Marshall Korn wants a herd of red-colored cows, instead of the usual black and white-colored Holstein breed so prominent in the dairy industry. He purchases genetics from two companies, Select Sires and Accelerated Genetics, as he continues to build his dairy herd. All of the cows are bred through artificial insemination with the purchased genetics and the heifers are bred by a bull.

"My goal is all red cows, not black and white," he says. "I like red cows and green tractors."

Right now, the herd is 70 percent red and white Holstein or carriers of those genetics and the other 30 percent of the cows are registered Jerseys, Guernseys and milking Shorthorns. While the cows with the Holstein genetics produce a larger quantity of milk, the other breeds produce less milk, but with higher butterfat and protein content. Dairy producers are paid for their milk by volume, favoring the Holstein breed, and by fat content, favoring the other breeds.

The Korns sold their milk to First District in Litchfield while they farmed in Pierz and then sold to AMPI while on the Chandler farm. They switched back to selling to First District after moving to the Atwater farm.

Marshall Korn purchases all of his hay from a friend in Garretson and buys feed from neighbors and friends in the Atwater area. They trade the manure, valuable as fertilizer for crops, for bedding for the cattle.

Eventually, the Korns want to purchase land so that they can grow their own crops to feed the cattle and grow straw for bedding. Right now, the only land they have under cultivation is a garden near the barn. The 7 acres of land around the farmstead is fenced as a pasture for the heifers.

Marshall Korn loves the tie-stall facility, having only been exposed to parlor systems in South Dakota, and doesn't want to expand the barn. In their tie-stall barn, the cows are milked in their stalls with portable milkers. A pipeline carries the milk to the bulk tank where it is stored until First District trucks haul it to the plant.

Parlors are facilities for milking only, separate from where the animals are housed. The cows move through the parlor for milking and often are milked on an elevated platform to ease the labor of the dairy workers.

Marshall Korn tried feeding using a total mixed ration, but he went back to more traditional component feeding -- offering forage and grains separately -- which he feels allows him to more closely manage each animal and his feed costs.

"We do things old school," he says, noting that young people who start their own farm also aren't common in the dairy industry or agriculture in general.

Buying everything you've got makes a person appreciate what you've got, Marshall said.

"We are proof that it is doable," Melanie added. "We thought it would be easier, and we've made some good and bad decisions."

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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