Imagine driving down a gravel road, thinking it will never end, with cornfields stretching over the rolling hills as far as the eye can see. As you turn the corner, you notice a dairy sitting in the valley with Brown Swiss cows scattered across green pastures in the background. This is home to Carter Bratland and Viking Valley Farm.
Despite the farm being owned and operated by Bratland’s father and uncle, he did not feel pressured by family to stay on the farm. In fact, it was quite the opposite. For years, Bratland enjoyed playing baseball and was only helping out on the farm occasionally, but when an inconsistent employee failed to show up for work, Bratland began taking over the weekend shifts. But according to his family, dairy and crop farming always seemed to be in his blood.
“We knew we were doomed when he had a tractor-themed first birthday, and he got six or seven tractor toys. It has been farming ever since; there wasn’t even a doubt,” chuckled Darin, Bratland’s father. Bratland, who is now 21, has plans to eventually become a part owner of the 110-cow dairy in Spring Grove, Minn.
Learning and growing
Bratland knows that in order to be a successful dairy farmer, one must be continuously learning. Before returning to the farm full time, he is taking classes at Northeast Iowa Community College. The double major in dairy science and agriculture business offers new ideas for him to take back to the family farm.
Social media has also provided new information at Bratland’s fingertips. Predominant influencers such as Iowa Dairy Farmer, New York Farm Girls, and 10th Generation Dairy Farmer are enjoyable and easy to learn from. “You learn a lot from seeing other farm pages, seeing what they do every day, and getting insight into what we can do differently,” said Bratland. He acknowledges that his family’s facilities are not the newest, but ideas from these influencers have allowed him to improve cow comfort and stay ahead while making do with what they have.
If Viking Valley Farm were searched on Facebook or Instagram, you would find an active page run by Bratland. In 2021, Bratland listened to a podcast that said, “To keep up with what is going on in the world, all farms should have a presence on social media whether it’s large or small.” Bratland feels he is showing people what happens on a farm and having fun with it, too. “It’s a fun little hobby for me,” he said.
The dairy herd is mainly managed by Bratland’s uncle, and the crops are his father’s priority. Bratland feels he is a combination of both his uncle and father, finding an interest in crops and dairy cattle.
Tar spot hit their corn acres last fall. Fortunately, they had a helicopter come in and spray 85% of the corn. The family saw a 50-bushel difference in the 15% of land that had not been serviced. Additionally, helicopter pilots dislike the Minnesota trend of strip cropping, so Bratland made the decision to invest in a drone of his own this year to prevent leaving money in the field in the future.
Traveling to an Agri Spray Drones dealership in Missouri to attend training allowed him to learn all he could about operating drones. Bratland returned to the farm and landed in a niche market, now spraying other farmers’ fields for an extra source of income. He has already flown 1,600 acres for others simply by word of mouth and Facebook advertising. “It’s cool that if I have kids someday, I can tell them the first piece of farm equipment I owned could fly,” grinned Bratland.
The Brown Swiss herd is currently at maximum capacity for their facilities, but Bratland is open to making changes when possible. Bratland dreams of one day installing robots; however, that will take significant expansion and rebuilding across the road due to a creek running near the current barn. More short-term goals are focused on the genetics of the herd. The family marketed bulls and embryos in the past. He wants to take advantage of their genetics and start flushing and try putting bulls into A.I. programs again. Genomic testing is also an aspect he plans to pursue.
The goals of the farm have changed multiple times over the years. Gerald, Bratland’s grandfather, focused on raising and showing Brown Swiss. Then, Gerald and his sons enjoyed experimenting with the Milking Shorthorn breed. The small herd of Milking Shorthorns was dispersed over the years due to a lack of time and resources. More recently, Bratland and his uncle became interested in crossbreeding and decided to slowly bring the Milking Shorthorn herd back.
When asked who his role models are, Bratland responded by saying, “It’s easy to point to my dad, uncle, and grandpa.” Gerald is 85 and still comes to the farm every day. It took Bratland’s uncle, Duron, having carpal tunnel surgery to take a break from milking — the longest break he has taken in 30 years. These men have the drive, dedication, and discipline that Bratland hopes to have. “They care about what they’re doing and want to make sure it’s done right,” praised Bratland.
Farming is simple for Bratland. “I love the cows and I like driving tractors,” he said. As Bratland continues preparing to take ownership of Viking Valley Farm, his passion for the dairy industry grows, too. “Farming is just something you become passionate about” Bratland said. “The more and more I’m around it, the more passion I have for it. I want to gain more knowledge about how to be better going forward with cows and crops. Being better than you were yesterday is what drives everything.”