Partner Wanted Minnesota dairy takes its search public

April 5, 2009 07:00 PM

The Durst milking center, finished in 1997, barely shows a decade of use on this well-kept dairy.

Ron, Ken and Allen Durst never gave retirement much thought. They were just too darn busy building what is arguably one the best-kept and best-managed dairies in the Midwest, if not the U.S.

Now Ron, 58, Ken, 65, and Allen, 67, are at a crossroad in their careers.

The problem: Ken and Allen are ready to slow down. Ron is battling significant health challenges. And there are no younger Dursts to immediately step into a leadership role.

The potential solution: an outside, unrelated partner that could bring drive, passion, leadership and a substantial capital investment to buy into Durst Brothers Dairy.

The 1,500-cow dairy, located near Mantorville, Minn., just an hour south of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, pumps out more than 40 million pounds of milk each year.

"We'd like to see someone come in, continue to grow the business and be successful,” says Ron, who oversees the dairy operation and acts as the business's CEO. "We probably have some of the best employees we've ever had here at the dairy, but we need someone to become a leader as we step back.

"We're looking for someone to come in as our herd manager and partner, but also bring a significant equity investment with them so that they have an immediate stake in the business,” he says.

A passion for dairying and being a responsible friend to neighbors and the environment are absolutely key. Some other requisite attributes:
  • High levels of integrity and honesty.
  • A talent for employee management, especially working with Hispanic labor.
  • Demonstrable management potential.
  • A proven record in successful large-herd management.
  • Ability to provide a meaningful equity capital investment—$1 million minimum.

The business is currently structured as a partnership, with Ron, Ken and Allen as the general partners. The business structure will evolve depending on the requirements of incorporating the new partner, says Steve Bodart of Lookout Ridge Consulting, which is working with the Dursts through the transition.

Bodart and his partner, Marv Siekman, will conduct the initial due diligence review of applicants to evaluate potential new partners.

"We'll screen candidates for their cultural fit, their values and their communication skills. Plus, the financial matchup has to be a good fit,” Bodart says.

"The Dursts have put their whole lives into this operation, they're offering this partnership to someone as an opportunity and they're taking this very seriously,” he says. "So it needs to be a good fit.”

The Durst Brothers Dairy, as it now stands, sports a double-24 parallel parlor. The parlor started milking cows in 1997. It was built to combine two older dairies the Dursts were operating and which had been milking up to 600 cows.

Though now 12 years old, the dairy is so well maintained you would think it had opened in just the last couple of years. Plus, a new 320-cow cross-ventilated barn is nearing completion on the site. The new barn, which is 316'x317', will house early-lactation cows and allow the Dursts to bring their dry cows home for closer, on-site management.

The Dursts also raise all their replacements. In fact, they're so good at it and cow culling is so low, they usually sell 100 to 120 heifers off as replacements each year.

All of their expansions, with the exception of 40 heifers they bought in 1978 when they first started dairying together, have come from internal growth.

The Dursts operate off of a 3,000-acre land base, of which 1,800 acres are owned. The land will probably remain separate from any arrangement with the new partner, with the intent of leasing the owned acres to the partnership.

But the transition also must keep the eight or nine non-family landlords in mind. "We've worked with some of our landlords for 30 years,” Ron says. "So we feel a responsibility to them as well.”

Ron, Ken and Allen Durst (from left) are hoping to find a herdsman and equity partner to provide leadership as they step back from active management.
Ron, Ken and Allen
started their dairy careers back in 1978 when they bought their dad's cattle and machinery and leased his farm. They milked those 120 cows through a double-four side-opening parlor.

In 1985, they bought a distressed dairy at the height of the farm crisis. It was run-down but had a double-10 parlor and a 180-cow freestall barn. They milked on the two sites, gradually growing from 300 cows to 600. By 1995, they were bursting at the seams. "We needed to make some changes,” Ken says. "It was either build or sell.”

That's when the new dairy, on a greenfield site, was conceived. Since then, the Dursts have grown their operation to its current 1,500 cows. The double-24 parlor is now pretty much maxed out on 3X milking.

"At the time we built it, I didn't think we'd ever get any bigger than this,” Ron says. But the milking barn could still be expanded to the south and the possibility exists of adding freestalls in the future.

Now the Dursts want to give someone else an opportunity to grow with them. "Our dad helped us get started and pledged all of his collateral to give us a chance,” Ken says. The brothers would like to return the favor—even to a perfect stranger. "But we want to have some say in who comes after us, and leave this operation and its impact on the community in good hands,” Ron says.

For more information, you can contact Steve Bodart at (715) 928-2946 or e-mail him at


It's never too soon to begin transition planning for your business, says Kevin Spafford, founder of Legacy by Design, a consulting company that specializes in business transitions, and succession planning expert for Farm Journal Media.

"Succession planning, creating a multigenerational operation, is an ongoing process which ensures that the next generation does not have to start over to grow or build a business,” he says. "When performed correctly, it creates a nearly seamless transition to the next generation.”

Too often, however, big chunks of the business have to be sold off because the operation has grown too large for the next generation to purchase, to payout retiring partners or to pay taxes.

Early, continual planning provides:
  • a methodical transition, using equitable and fair distributions;
  • better control of the process;
  • peace of mind, ensuring the family's financial security;
  • healthier family relationships by improving communication and establishing family goals; and
  • personal satisfaction that a lasting legacy has been assured.

Bonus content:

More information on Durst Dairy partnership opportunity

Lookout Ridge Consulting

Farm Journal''s Legacy Project articles

Succession planning self-assessment worksheet

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