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Young Texas dairy farmer says he won’t let his age hold him back

Progressive Dairy Editorial Intern Emma Ohirko Published on 11 September 2020
Tanner Mesman

Age is an issue in farming. According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, the average age of U.S. agricultural producers is 57.5.

As the average farmer nears the age of retirement, questions are raised about what the next generation of farmers might look like, and these questions are tough to answer. This is where Tanner Mesman comes in. The 23-year-old dairy farmer from west Texas is proving the next generation of farmers is up to the task.

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Mesman grew up on his family’s 600-cow dairy, near the border of west Texas and eastern New Mexico. Mesman and his brother, along with their parents, ran the farm without any hired help. In 2014, Mesman says the family was forced to shut down the farm due to financial issues. Since then, Mesman has taken strides toward owning and operating his own dairy farm. Mesman says, “Growing up on a dairy, I know I always wanted to own my own dairy; I wanted to own cows and milk my own cows.”

While he was still in high school, Mesman took out a youth loan from the USDA. Mesman used this loan to buy and raise a few Holstein calves in his spare time. During his junior year of high school, Mesman worked for the extension agency that organizes the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium. Mesman says this experience was advantageous. “That [job] exposed me to a lot of things and got me some connections to the big wigs,” he says.

After completing high school, Mesman attended a local trade school, taking a course in large-herd dairy management and got a job working on a large dairy farm. Around this time, Mesman began buying heifers to breed and raise for a few months, until they approached calving, at which time he would sell them. Through this endeavour, Mesman worked closely with his family friends who run Windmolen Farms, an 1,800-cow dairy in New Mexico. Now Mesman sells heifers to Windmolen Farms in exchange for equity in their farm. Mesman takes whatever money he can spare to invest back into the dairy. He says he is still a small partner, but the equity is “enough to say I own something.”

The partnership with Windmolen began about a year ago. It started when family friends at the farm had reached out to Mesman to involve him in their operation after Mesman’s dad died in a farming accident. Similarly, the farm Mesman works for now, Blue Sky Farms, is owned by family friends who hired him around the same time. At Blue Sky, Mesman helps with employee training, relief breeding and tending to the farm’s hospital group.

Mesman’s biggest challenge thus far has been getting banks and financial institutions to consider him as a viable loan candidate. “With someone of my age, trying to acquire capital or some financing through lenders and banks, trying to take a 23-year-old guy seriously, that’s pretty hard to do. Especially in the dairy industry, for the amount of capital it requires.” Mesman has had to go through local, small lenders to acquire financing. He adds, “It’s more challenging and difficult financially for me because going through a bank that actually understands the dairy industry, like a large national bank, would be a better way to go, but they’re pretty skeptical giving a young guy financing.”

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Since 2018, Mesman has owned a small feedyard, where he keeps the approximately 300 dairy heifers he raises to sell. He cares for the heifers by himself, before and after his work day. “It’s an expensive hobby,” he says with a chuckle.

Mesman takes pride in his ability to problem solve and appreciates investigating the source of issues related to herd health and breeding. “I enjoy the challenge of it,” Mesman says. He likes the technology and advanced computer systems that have been integrated into dairy farming in the last decade.

When asked what advice he would give to kids in high school hoping to begin dairy farming, Mesman replies, “There is going to be a lot of punches and setbacks, but you’ve just got to find a way to fight through them and maneuver through them.” He stresses that anyone looking to enter the industry has to be willing to adapt and “go with the flow.”

Going forward, Mesman would like to own his own dairy facility and hold a larger stake in a dairy partnership. He is motivated to continue in the industry despite the challenges he has faced because he says it is all he knows. “Some days I like it; some days I like to sit in my truck and cry,” Mesman says, only half joking.  end mark

PHOTO: Tanner Mesman’s goal is to own his own dairy facility within the next 10 years. After his work day ends, Tanner Mesman cares for his own 300 dairy heifers. Photo provided by Tanner Mesman.

Emma Ohirko
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