Terry Ketterling grew up on a small dairy, then became a farmer and raised sugar beets.
“That was my only profitable crop, but I had a lot of land and couldn’t plant sugar beets on all of it. I looked into growing other crops, and decided I needed a dairy to utilize my crops, and produce manure for the crops,” he says.
He started by raising heifers. A few years later he began the dairy. The operation followed the “whole circle of life; manure to go onto the land to feed the crops that feed the cows that produce the manure to feed the land,” he says. “Everything stays in the loop.”
He also bought a 700-cow dairy near Wendell, Idaho, in 2001 so he could learn more about dairying, he explains.
In 2002, he got the necessary permits to build a larger dairy near Mountain Home, Idaho, and started milking in 2003.
“We are now milking 11,000 cows in 3 barns,” Ketterling says.
“The wind blows through here constantly, and I was concerned that one of my highest costs (feed) would be blowing away every time we fed the cows. I thought about ways to not have all that feed blow away and came up with an innovation we call the pantry. This barn is my own design and we feed all the cows out of it,” he says.
The feed is protected from the elements and wind. Now the cows are getting a more precise ration, quality of the feed isn’t affected by weather, and milk production has improved.
As his dairy expanded Ketterling realized he needed to build more barns and milk more cows or do something internally to reduce the money being spent. Raising heifers on-site made more sense than buying them.
“I decided to raise our own babies and never have to buy heifers. But with our labor force, and wind blowing all the time, I didn’t think we could do a decent job with calf hutches,” he says.
He went to Iowa, looked at a facility there, and built an innovative calf nursery using some of those ideas.
“We adjusted it to fit our situation, but I didn’t come up with it entirely on my own,” he says.
“We raise all our heifers now, and do the best job we can with them. There’s no need to bring in any other cattle, so there are no biosecurity risks. Someday this will be a big advantage, to have a closed herd,” Ketterling says.
The dairy buys some of its feed, but grows most of it on the farm. This includes 5,000 acres of corn for silage and a lot of alfalfa and triticale.
“We buy some additional alfalfa and triticale from neighboring farmers,” he says.
Manure from the dairy all goes back onto the fields.
“We make a lot of compost and apply it as needed. We recently purchased two compost spreaders with scales on them that tie into the tractor, so we can quantify how much we put on the land. Most dairy people don’t want to deal with manure but it’s a big asset for our crops,” he says.
The dairy is a team effort, with good employees and several family members involved. His wife, Linda, takes care of the head office — TLK Dairy Inc. and TLK Farms Inc. — with the farm run as a separate entity.
“My daughter, Launa Fowler, works in the office in town, and my son, Tony, works with me at the dairy. I am proud of our family team,” he says.
“One of our major assets has been the people who have worked long-term for us. We have many valuable employees. I can’t do this all myself, so I try to get buy-ins from everyone who works here on how we want to do it, to take the best care of the cattle. We’ve done well by getting our core people on board,” Ketterling says.
“We consider them part of our family and try our best to treat them that way.”