by Cori Hilsgen – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ken and Tess Koltes, along with their two sons, Andy and Mike, are continuing a family farming tradition. The Koltes farm was recently designated a century farm.
To be certified as a century farm, Ken Koltes submitted an application to the Minnesota State Fair and Minnesota Farm Bureau. He was able to prove ownership through documentation of the land deed that was in the Koltes family ownership for the past 100 years.
Ownership of the Koltes family farm began when Joseph Koltes Sr. came from the Tintah area with his family. When Joseph Sr. retired, ownership was transferred to his sons, Joseph Koltes Jr. and Aloys Koltes.
Upon high school graduation, Ken Koltes attended Willmar Vocational Technical school for farm management. His uncle Aloys asked him if he was interested in purchasing land from him for farming. Ken was and the two slowly began the process of changing the farm partnership.
When Aloys retired, Ken began farming with his father and eventually purchased the entire farm from his father. Ken had been farming seven years when he married Tess Goerger.
Their two sons, Andy and Mike, recently decided to start farming with their parents. Originally, Andy and Mike had decided to pursue careers off the farm.
Ken had been having health issues and had decided to discontinue milking cows. He had sold the dairy cows and purchased some beef cattle. At the time, Andy had graduated and become a plumber and was working in town. Mike was a senior in high school. He went on to attend and graduate from St. John’s University, studying art education.
When Mike was a sophomore at SJU, he had a conversation with Andy about them starting to milk cows again. Andy was surprised and happy to hear that Mike was interested.
The two brothers approached their parents about the possibility of buying the farm. Ken and Tess were surprised and excited the two men were interested in continuing the farming tradition. Ken did some money calculations to see if it would work for all of them to farm together and in September 2009 Koltes Dairy LLC began.
To keep up with ever-changing farming techniques and advancements, the Koltes farm has seen many changes throughout the years. Some of the changes that have occurred since Ken started farming with Andy and Mike include the following:
• The barn on the Koltes farm was remodeled to free stalls and water beds. The free stalls allow the cows to move around the cow yard and barn. The cows have freedom to roam to the feed line to eat, drink water or lay down in the waterbed stalls whenever they choose. The waterbeds, or dual chamber mattresses filled with water, are in each stall for the cows to lie on. The water allows the cows to remain comfortable. This can help increase milk production.
• The swing-10-style milking parlor was already in place, but the milk house was remodeled and new equipment was added. They had previously used a squat milking style and the swing-10- style allows them to be more efficient. This style allows them to stand in a parlor with 10 units that swing side to side. The milkers are down in a pit and 10 cows are loaded, washed off and milked on one side. While this is happening, the other side of the cows is being washed off and prepared for milking. The Koltes’ estimate it takes about one-and-a-half hours for them to milk 100 cows.
• The Koltes’ also added a feed line outside so a total mixed ration could be fed to the dairy cows. They purchased a mixer wagon so a round bale, protein, vitamins, minerals, corn silage and corn are all mixed so the cows receive a balanced meal with each mouthful of feed. After the feed is mixed, it is dropped on the feed line for the cows to come and eat throughout the day and after they are milked.
• An addition was added to the barn which allowed them to house 37 more animals. The barn now has capacity to house 120 milking cows. The Koltes’ started with a herd of 160 cows, heifers and calves and have now increased to 230 animals.
• They have been able to rent more land from neighbors. This allows them to produce more feed and to have a larger area to spread manure.
• Making hay no longer involves square bales. The Koltes’ make large, round bales to feed the cows. They also grow more corn and alfalfa. Farming the fields now involves less manual labor and is done more mechanically with machines such as tractors, round balers, combines, trucks, wagons, choppers, skidsteers and a wrapper.
• Calves are now placed in hutches, which are individual white-dome housing units. This provides an individual area for each calf so it can stay healthy and comfortable.
The Koltes family strives to be environmentally conscious. They say they closely watch the weather and the changing of the seasons because it has a huge impact on their business. They also work with Stearns County Environmental Services and Soil Conservation.
Ken and Tess said farmers love the land and try to take care of the land because they need it to raise good crops for their animals.
As farmers they have applied techniques that are “environmentally friendly” such as preventing soil erosion by minimum tilling and through the creation of terraces, containing rainwater run-off and proper manure application to their fields and digging it into the soil at the appropriate time.
They also graze their herd rotationally by fencing and sectioning off the fields closest to the barn yard. One section at a time is opened up for the animals to graze on. When the animals have depleted that section, they are rotated to another section so the eaten section can regrow. This allows the fields to regrow and the animals to get the best possible grasses to eat.
The entire family is involved with the business doing anything from feeding calves and milking cows to cooking meals. Andy’s wife, Missy, and Mike’s girlfriend, Brianna Larison, both help with chores and milking when life on the farm gets busy. Missy works at a bank doing equipment financing. Brianna is currently attending college and substitute teaching.
The Koltes know about the many benefits and the long hours of hard work of operating a farming business. After all, they have been doing it for a century. They have grown up with it and it has been a part of them throughout the years.
They said they are happy they are able to be their own bosses and can somewhat control their success by the amount of work they put into it. As with other businesses, they make their own decisions and are able to act on them; they set goals and work to achieve them. If problems occur, they have the power and ability to try to correct them.
As with other businesses, there are some disappointments in the farming business.
Ken says weather and pricing such as low milk prices, high cost of feed, equipment and fuel are a challenge in farming.
Tess, who is a fifth-grade teacher at All Saints Academy – St. Joseph Campus, said farming can be challenging for family time.
“It can tax family time sometimes,” Tess said. “It’s not a job where you can take time away easily.”
In spite of the hardships, Ken is very excited his sons have decided to continue the family farming tradition.
“Now that I have both sons involved to do the hard work, I am having the time of my life,” Ken said.
Andy and Mike said they are enjoying farming with their parents.
“I really enjoy working outdoors on the farm,” Mike said. “I love working with the cows and enjoy watching them grow into healthy productive cows.”
“What drew me back to the farm was (that) I really wanted to buy the farm from Dad and Mom anyway,” Andy said. “Now I can use (it) as a way to make a living too.”
Andy and Missy have a 9-month-old son, Caden.
Who knows, when Caden is as old as his father he might also decide to continue the farming tradition.
“I would love it if Caden would take over for Mike and I someday,” Andy said. “Farming is a great way of life and a good way to be your own boss and see the results of your hard work.”