Meet Our Farmers
Meet the Otte family
Blake and Chicky Otte started Square Deal Dairy in 1997 with the hopes of continuing the farm for generations. Fast forward 20 years and they are now farming with the help of their three sons Tyler, Bret and Eric. Their commitment to sustainability and planning for the future earned them the honor of being named Minnesota Milk Producers Association’s 2016 Dairy Farm Family of the Year.
I had the opportunity to chat with Chicky about raising a family on the farm and her hopes for the future. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:
Q: What is your favorite part about raising your family on the farm?
Chicky: Having been raised on a dairy farm and loving every minute of it; it was like a dream come true when I met, fell in love with and married a dairy farmer. I wanted my children to grow up watching and working side by side with their parents and grandparents. I believe there is nothing better than having your children grow up with a strong work ethic, respect for animals, have a sense of value and a deep connection to family. All of these things are the best part of raising kids on a dairy farm.
Q: What are everyone’s responsibilities on the farm?
Chicky: Responsibilities on the farm have evolved over time. Like most farm kids, my boys started out by following me around and doing what they could….hold a bottle, clean pails, scoop feed, shake straw. With time and experience, they are now able to do every job on the farm. Currently, our oldest (Tyler-24) is our main herdsman. He is in charge of all aspects of the milking herd; their health, reproduction, production, and comfort. Our middle son (Bret-22), is working off the farm. He is in charge of our beef cow/calf farm and in the evenings and on weekends, he fills in where needed; feeding calves, feeding cows, working in the fields. Our youngest (Eric-19) is in his first year at Ridgewater Technical College studying Agronomy. His interests are wrapped up in the crops. He does the majority of the fall tillage, is a main operator during forage harvesting, and manages the manure systems. Blake continues to oversee the entire farm, works daily at the dairy and does all the planting and fall harvest. My roles on the farm have changed the most; having had three total joint replacements in the past couple of years has forced me to give up daily calf chores. Now I keep busy doing the books, maintaining both farm yards, keeping the crews fed; as well as working off the farm.
Q: What do you like most about dairy farming?
Chicky: Dairy farming can be one of the most demanding, exhausting, frustrating line of work; and I wouldn’t want to do anything else!! Because of the struggles of this profession, you come to appreciate the little things. I love the early hours, the smell of fresh cut hay, the feel of a calf sucking on my fingers, seeing my husband teach my boys new skills, making and delivering lunches to the harvest crew, giving tours to kindergartners, knowing grandpa and grandma are only a mile away, watching cattle shows….I could go on and on. Just like the beautiful cow I care for; it comes down to contentment. Every day spent with the gifts God gave me is why I love this profession – my family, my cows and the land.
Q: What does it mean to you to have your sons coming back to the farm?
Chicky: I came home from a women’s conference more than 10 years ago with some valuable information. The keynote speaker told us that if you have children who want to return to the farm, it is never too early to set up some expectations. That very night, my husband and I came up with two requirements our children had to meet before they could join the family farm. The first was they had to have some sort of post high school education. They needed to learn something we had not taught them. And the second was that they would have to work off the farm for at least two years. This lesson would help them decide if dairy farming and its commitments were what they really wanted.
Watching the boys over the years make their decisions for their education, choose internships and jobs that would give them experience, and ultimately returning to the farm has made us realize those two rules were the best parenting we did. Our children have passion and dreams for the future which makes it exciting to be along for the ride.
Q: What is your favorite memory on the farm?
Chicky: Although it’s not my favorite thing to do, it is my favorite memory; and that is putting the cows in when they get out. Let me explain…..it doesn’t matter what time of the day or night, but when the cows get out no one hesitates to go do their part. Everyone drops what they are doing (or pops out of their bed in the middle of the night and rushes out only throwing on a pair of shoes) to help get the cows back in. It was a warm summer night about 1:00 a.m. when the heifers got out and we were all outside chasing and yelling trying to corral the girls back into their pens. Apparently, we were yelling pretty loud because it alarmed our neighbors (who had been sitting outside around a fire) and they rushed over to help. What makes it a special memory is that we were not exactly dressed for company; pj’s, whities and shoes. Like I said, you get up and go!!
Q: What are your hopes for your children?
Chicky: I hope that no matter where my children land that they are happy. With the way they dream and scheme about the future; I really have no doubt that the dairy will anchor them all together. I look forward to watching them take the dairy to the next level, take advantage of new technology and pass that excitement on to their children.
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