For much of Terry Ketterling’s life, he was focused on growing sugar beets. A crop farmer since 1975, Terry was presented a unique opportunity in 2001 to explore ways to diversify his business.
“There was a power crisis in the Northwest, and Idaho Power, who we buy power from, actually paid us not to farm so as not to use power to pump water for irrigation,” he says. “Because of that, I had the opportunity to figure out what I was going to do for about a year.”
Terry bought a 700-cow dairy in Wendell, Idaho.
“I bought that dairy as part of a learning curve,” he says. “I call it Dairy 101.”
The experience taught him that running a modern dairy operation had changed significantly from the 30-cow dairy farm he grew up on.
“When I grew up, we fed the cows the greenest hay and fed the cows that gave a little more milk more grain in the barn,” he says. “I didn’t know the current methods of dairying. I had to learn about nutrition and all of the things that today’s dairymen do.”
Terry decided to build his own dairy operation in Mountain Home, Idaho, in 2003. With plans to build a 7,000-cow dairy, Terry says he ran into unexpected challenges.
“I didn’t realize that banks would have such a worry about someone who was not a dairyman becoming a dairyman,” he says. “That challenge was relatively huge. Selling our abilities as dairymen not having dairied was a huge challenge. I can see today why the banks were apprehensive about handing me a pile of money to do what my dream was.”
Terry’s vision for the dairy had more to do with his 9,000-acre farming operation, as a way to help diversify the business.
“We were raising a lot of sugar beets,” he says. “With the other crops not being so profitable at the time, it made it so that I needed to have some other crop to keep the farm sustainable. Feed was a good option, except I didn’t have a market locally. By building the dairy, I had my own market and vertically integrated myself within.”
Today, TLK Dairy milks 10,500 cows between three barns. The operation’s cropland no longer grows sugar beets, for the first time since 1975; instead, the wheat, alfalfa and corn for silage all goes back to the dairy.
“One of my visions was always to be vertically integrated,” Terry says. “I call it the circle of life. I am probably one of the few dairymen who built a dairy knowing how important the manure was for the nutrients of the land that we farmed. Most dairies probably would rather not have the manure part. For me, it was an asset on the type of land we were farming. The circle of life is that we grow the crop that we haul to the dairy, feed the cows; we sell the milk. The manure that the cows make goes back to the farm. The farm then saves on fertilizer that we were buying commercially. Then, we grow the crop again. So the circle of life is that whole circle that stays within TLK.”
Between the dairies and the farming operation, Terry relies on a team of 150 valued employees, including his son, Tony, who is training to eventually take over the dairy and farming operation.
Terry’s wife, Linda, also plays a key role in the business, with responsibility for office administration for the dairy and farming operations, as well as payroll. Terry’s daughter, Launa Fowler, also works in the office and is training to take over for Linda. Tony’s wife, Rachel, and Launa’s husband, Nate, are also involved in the business.