By Liz Verley, Staff Writer
There are about 49,000 dairy farms in the United States. About 97 percent are family owned and operated.
Jerry and Larry Capko operate a third generation farm near Swanville. The farm has been in the family for more than 100 years.
Jerry said, “I have been milking cows since I was 15. When I started we had about 30. We now have 250.” Dairy farming has changed over the years and the Capko farm now has a double nine parlor where the cows are milked, plus a robotic feeder for the calves which saves a lot of work and time.
Besides the 250 milking cows, the Capkos also raise their own replacement stock, and around 50 head of beef cattle that they feed out.
Duties are divided between the brothers. Larry does the bookkeeping, manages the record keeping of each cow and helps with the milking. Jerry manages the crops and milking. “I also do the hiring and firing,” he said.
“Having good help is key to being a successful farmer,” Jerry said.
Jerry’s son, Jared, who one day hopes to take over the farm, is also involved in the day-to-day operations. Jared has plans to attend Ridgewater College in Willmar. There he plans to earn a degree in farm management.
“They have a great program. It begins the last of August and closes down for the month of October allowing me to come home to help out with harvesting. It also is out by the first of May so I am back to help with the planting,” Jared said.
The best part of farming, Jerry said, is “Being outside and doing something different every day. Every minute there is something different going on. You never know what will come up. An example is the rain we had over the past weekend. We sure could have used one more day of dry weather to plant the fields.”
The Capkos plant and harvest more than 1,000 acres of beans, corn and alfalfa hay.
The worst part of farming, according to Jerry is, “the low milk prices.”
Milk produced by the Capkos is shipped to a plant in Melrose and is used to make cheese.
The Capkos have three full-time employees. Megan Waldoch serves as their herdsman. “She is really great at her job. She knows the cows and that is real important,” Jerry said.
Advice the Capkos give to someone planning to go into farming is, “Be prepared to work hard and put in long days. Rain or shine you have to keep on going,” said Jerry.
One of the most important pieces of machinery on any farm is the tractor. In late April, the Capkos’ 8420 John Deere played an important part of a night in Jared’s life when it served as a mode of transport to the Little Falls prom.
Jared, who was attending the prom with Brooke Teague (both seniors at Little Falls), were discussing the event and joking around came up with the idea of using the tractor as their limousine. Jared said they asked his dad who said OK,” and it became a reality.
Neighbor and friend, Dave Czech, spent two days cleaning and waxing the tractor. “That 10-year-old tractor was just like new. I helped a little with the waxing one day, but Dave did a great job. It was spotless,” Jared said.
The 12-mile trip from the farm to the prom brought many looks as the two traveled down the road.
Brooke is going to attend St. Cloud State University seeking a PhD in psychology. “Riding to the prom in a tractor was one of the best memories I have had so far. I will never forget it,” she said.
“I was amazed that we were able to pull the whole thing off. It was fun,” Jared said.