Accomplishing a dream

Terning establishes milking herd by 22


DASSEL, Minn. — On Aug. 22, 2022, Dylan Terning began milking a herd of 60 Holstein cows at the age of 22.  

The 24-year-old’s herd is now averaging 70 pounds of milk per day with tests of 3.9% butterfat and 3.2% protein. Cows are milked in a tiestall barn that Terning rents from Don and Peter Settergren near Dassel, and milk is shipped to First District Association in Litchfield.  

“The biggest reason I didn’t start earlier than I did was because I was too scared to call the creamery,” Terning said. “You know, you have this big dream of doing this your whole life, and you did it your whole life but not on your own. I did not want to get the answer, ‘No.’” 

Terning milked cows on his family’s farm since the age of 7. 

He worked at a local dairy for more than three years before leaving to prepare a barn for his own herd of cows.

“I didn’t milk cows for about 45 days, and that was too much for me,” Terning said. “I joke that was me testing out retirement.” 

Terning said he never considered a career other than dairy farming. When he first began his herd, he housed cows at Deerview Dairy in Willmar and shipped milk to the creamery in Litchfield. When he branched out on his own, on rented land, the creamery began picking up his milk from the new location with no issues.

“I like the flexibility now,” Terning said. “I can manage my time better. When I was working for someone else, we did crops until 2 in the morning and then had to be in the barn to milk the cows a few hours later.”

However, Terning did not mind being an employee. He said it was a sad day leaving the farm after working there for so long. 

When Terning was working toward getting his own barn, he was not alone in making the decision to rent from the Settergrens. The Settergrens’ brother, who is a pastor, approached Terning one day after church and told Terning that his brothers were expecting him to stop by one day.

“There was tons of support and encouragement coming here,” Terning said. “The biggest thing was knowing what my long-term plans were. The Settergren brothers were comfortable letting me in. I plan to continue doing what I’m doing and making adjustments to better the operation.”

This barn was a prime location for Terning because it was close to home.  

Along with his dairy operation, Terning farms 600 acres — a combination of family land, rented land from the Settergrens and land he purchased — of hay, corn, wheat and soybeans and manages a herd of about 40 beef cow-calf pairs each year. When the pastures dry up and the cows can roam, the dairy heifers are on pasture with a bull.

When it comes to breeding, Terning only uses Holstein bulls.

“At home, we were big into crossbreeding,” Terning said. “Now, I do a lot of breeding for type for bigger-bodied cows that will last.”

His family focuses on components, but Terning wants to focus on longevity and would like to milk his cows for 10 years rather than finding replacement heifers.

While there are things Terning did not carry with him from his family’s farm, there are others he deems extremely important.

“My biggest thing is family,” Terning said. “Growing up on the farm, family was there every day.”

Terning spent his childhood at Ahlgren Brothers, a dairy farm owned by his grandparents. The farm is now managed by his uncle, Rick Ahlgren. There were many days Terning would be in the company of his younger brother, Tate.

“When Tate was younger and I was still at home, I dragged him around (the farm),” Terning said. “When I was gone for four years, I was worried he would no longer be interested in milking. But, he’s back helping me, and I hope he doesn’t leave.”

Milking on his own is about much more than a paycheck to Terning. The land he is renting allows the Settergren family to spend time with the cows, something that was long in their history and is once again an option with the rental agreement.

“It’s nice to know you are keeping the history going,” Terning said. “Plus, you get done at the end of the day and this is on you. This is your reward. You finally got it.”

Even though Terning has spent his life working with cows and was on a path leading him to his dream, he questioned himself along the way.

“I know people have had harder roads, but there were a few times I was wondering if it was worth it,” Terning said. “In the end, it fell into place.” 


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