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T O P I C    R E V I E W
maryjane Posted - Feb 07 2017 : 3:08:05 PM

Author: Sheila McCoy

Alex Zilka, 24, of Pierz was ready to own his own farm. He had worked several years at different farms in various settings, from milking in tie stalls to robotic milking and knew he had the necessary skill and knowledge to be successful.

“I’ve always kind of known that I wanted to go into the dairy business. That’s where my main interest is and what I am most passionate about,” he said.

Since he didn’t have a family farm to take over or inherit, the challenge was to find a way to get his own. It was a challenge he knew most first generational farmers face.

In the fall of 2014, Alex ran across an ad for a herd of milk cows for sale locally. At that time, Chuck and Pat Tax were looking to retire from their dairy operation.

The plan was to start out with a few milk cows and rent a barn in Buckman, Alex said. But when he and his wife, Brook, 23, visited the Tax’s farm, the discussion of purchasing the milk cows, led to a discussion about the barn.

“We figured, why move the cows when we could just rent the barn and the house and leave the cows where they were at,” Alex said.

The Zilkas purchased the cows, the milking equipment and other smaller equipment contract for deed. They also rented the building site, but not the surrounding acreage Chuck still uses for crop farming.
Alex said it was enough to get started, but both he and Brook immediately felt the financial stress.
“I had $1,000 in my checking. I had nothing,” he said.

The two now have 62 milk cows, 10 dry cows and about 50 replacement heifers that range in age from calf to near calving.

When the Zilkas started milking, milk prices were fairly good, Alex said. Most of the herd was not pregnant when they started, so the tank average per cow was about 50 pounds per day. Things were moving in the right direction. Then milk prices went down.

“Last summer was the worst,” Alex said.

By then Alex was milking three times a day. The tank average had also increased to about 80 pounds per day per cow. The extra milk helped them stay afloat.

“It was a good thing we had that extra milk to combat the low milk prices. A lot of that extra milk came in as a result of milking three times a day. That is probably one of the most beneficial things we’ve done,” he said.

The Zilkas are very thankful to Chuck and Pat for the opportunity to establish themselves in the dairy industry.

“They’ve been excellent to work with,” Alex said.

Chuck and Pat are very proud that Alex and Brook took over their dairy operation.

“Alex is an excellent herdsman and takes great care of the cows,” Pat said. “Without support, young farmers like Alex and Brook wouldn’t be able to fulfill their dream and we are excited for them.”
Pat said the relationship between the two families has become mutually beneficial. Whenever Alex might need help getting a heifer in the barn or advice on a piece of equipment, Chuck gladly helps him out.

Sometimes it’s the other way around and Chuck needs help with something.

“He’s always able to rely on Alex,” Pat said.

Alex said his interest for dairy farming began when he started to help out on his uncle Greg Zilka’s farm in Little Falls. He continued to work at the farm for about 12 years. At the same time, he also worked at eight other farms.

“It was anything from tie stall to parlor to robotics. I gained a wide range of experience that way,” Alex said.

What has also helped in his adventure into the dairy business is what he learned when he attended Ridgewater College in Willmar. He graduated from the college in 2012 with a diploma in dairy management.

Even though the Zilkas are happy where they’re at, they hope to move in the future to a farm in the Randall area. Foremost because they have family in the area, but also because they aspire to crop farm one day, as well.

“Eventually, I’d like to produce my own feed. But we just take one enterprise at a time and right now, we’re working on the dairy,” Alex said.

Even though Brook doesn’t have a background in farming, she is excited about the adventure she and Alex have set sail on.

“I like living in the country. It’s quiet at night and you don’t really have to worry about always locking the door versus living in town,” she said.

Another aspect about farming the Zilkas like is the fact that their 7-month-old daughter, Cora, will have the opportunity to grow up on the farm. She’s also taken a liking to the cows, Brook said.

The Zilkas encourage first time farmers to not give up the hope of owning a farm one day.

“You just got to find people who are willing to work with you,” he said.

At the end of the day and despite the hard work involved in farming, the Zilkas believe it is all worth it.

From McRecord:
3   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
maryjane Posted - Feb 10 2017 : 03:52:30 AM
Yes, it's good to think of our farms as legacies. Best use of land I can think of. A trust is a good idea, Cindy.
txbikergirl Posted - Feb 08 2017 : 4:46:50 PM
given that lover boy and i don't have living children we are considering doing something to keep our land a farm as we age. different than the story details, but we are thinking along the lines of a "land trust" wherein we have a life estate on the rear of the farm with a few acres and then via the land trust we find a young couple that wants to farm and they pay super low rent to use the farm/house/barn/improvements with a long-term lease.

all we would need is the prop tax paid and a little cash, and it would give us a few acres in the back to keep a milk cow and a few chickens and a little garden with a super small house... we figure at 80 that is about all we need or want.

i like seeing people give a helping hand to the next generation even when it isn't family, its the spirit of farming in general.
CloversMum Posted - Feb 08 2017 : 1:41:56 PM
Sounds like a young man I know ... ;)