'A Successful Run'
Allen, Kenny and Ron Durst were driving tractors by age 5.
“I could drive a tractor before I could tie my own shoes,” Ron said. “The workforce on the farm was the family.”
The brothers went on to operate Durst Brothers Dairy, one of the region’s largest and most successful and respected dairy farms.
They took over the Mantorville-area farm from their father, Victor, in 1978, and sold it Nov. 1, 2016 to Brant and Maaike Ryzebol of Bad Axe, Mich. It’s now known as Ryzebol Dairy.
Now they’re retired, though Kenny is still dabbling at the old farm.
“We accomplished a lot of great things,” said Ron, 67. “Some things got left undone. There are always things that you’ve like to have done better, I guess. But all in all, a very successful run for us.”
It actually began in the late 19th century with their Swiss-born grandfather, Nicholas Durst, who passed things along to his son Victor and Victor’s wife, Hylah.
Their sons bought out their parents’ interest in the farm in 1978 and grew it from 112 to 1,800 milking and “dry”cows – mostly Holsteins – and also had 1,300 head of replacement heifers.
Durst Brothers became one of Dodge County’s largest employers, with about 30 full-time and 30 part-time employees.
Allen and Darren Durst (Kenny’s son) worked with crops and maintenance, Kenny worked with young stock and feed, and Ron manned the business side with his wife, Marsha.
The brothers used large stalls and were among the first to use sand bedding on a large scale, making life comfortable for their cows, and won many dairy industry awards for their work over the years.
In 2000 the Dursts hosted about 4,500 people for Breakfast on the Farm, part of the annual Rochesterfest celebration.
In 2007 they hosted First District U.S. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Mankato) in a meeting sponsored by the National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
The brother also hosted countless tours of the farm. Visitors included students, and dairy farmers from China, South Africa, South America, Germany and Russia.
“We had a very long-term vision of how we wanted to do things,” said Ron, who earned an agricultural business administration degree at the University of Minnesota and served nine years on the Milton Township board. “There were a lot of challenges, believe me, on a daily basis and on a yearly basis. Financial challenges, weather challenges, people challenges. You navigate through all that. I enjoyed all that, and then we were able to sell the farm.
“Our goal was to get better every year, and I think we did,” he said. “We had a lot of great employees, including immigrant labor. We considered all our employees part of our extended family.”
There were hard times – especially during the 1980s farm crisis.
Marsha Durst, who oversaw the business’ books, staffed the Human Resources department, milked cows, served as the farm safety coordinator and maintained the dairy and young stock health records, died this past February, age 65.
“Losing my wife was tough on me,” Ron said. “For me, personally, having all the time with her working on the farm together was probably the highlight.”
Kenny, 74, said it was hard work but he enjoyed it.
“You know the old saying, ‘If you love your job, you never work a day in your life,’” he said. “It’s always good to see the spring come, see the crops grow. And in the fall you got to see the different colors – and the smell of the hay in the summertime. It’s been an enjoyable time.”
He said a woman stopped him and said he and his brothers probably don’t realize what an impact they’ve had on local communities, that they have helped many neighbors in need.
“We hope we have,” said Allen, 75. “That was our intention.”
“We’d like to believe that we made a difference,” Ron said. “You’re not going to please everybody. But I think we went above and beyond what most people would do to accomplish that. I would say we did, and I think people would say that. So that gives us a lot of pride.
“The new owners are going to make it go OK,” he said. “It’ll be different than what we did. Everyone has their own style of doing things. But they’ve got off to a good start, so I think they’ll be fine.”
Victor and Hylah’s boys will be Grand Marshals at this year’s Festival in the Park, Aug. 10-13 in Kasson.