The Mind of an Inventor

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As I listened to this Idaho dairy farmer list off idea after idea for making his operation more efficient, I could almost see the inner workings of a complicated clock with gears turning in a perfectly synchronized manner in his mind. For Terry Ketterling, coming up with new inventions and improvements is nearly the equivalent of breathing — it comes naturally and without pause. 

If you talk to Terry’s family, his 150 employees at TLK Dairy, other residents and neighbors in Mountain Home, Idaho, or just about anyone he’s had the chance to bounce ideas off, they’ll probably describe him in one of the following ways. He’s a forward-thinker. Gears are constantly turning in his head. His thought process is inspiring and pushes the envelope. He’s always progressing. 

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"We try to be out there way in front – both on the farm and on the dairy. I don’t think I can stop trying to be better." -Terry Ketterling

 

 

 

Yes, those all seem to be accurate ways to describe the mesmerizing way Terry’s mind works. He doesn’t stop at good enough — he pushes to always be better and never reach a standstill, which is why TLK Dairy’s motto, ‘A go-forward outfit,’ is so fitting. 

“We try to be out there way in front – both on the farm and on the dairy. I don’t think I can stop trying to be better,” says Terry as he reflects on his farm and the motto of TLK Dairy. As he talks about his many inventions, I can tell he is fueled by innovation and thrives on thinking of solutions — from a rebuilt city snow blower that picks up manure every day to his newest invention of a modified garbage truck that cleans up leftover feed from the feed lanes. 

Considering the aforementioned praise for the way his brain is able to make connections that lead to innovative solutions, Terry might seem a little too perfect. But don’t be fooled, as he’ll admit with no hesitation that he’s made plenty of mistakes over the years as he’s worked on inventions and new plans for the farm. The key? Keep trying and make mistakes. Above all else, learn from your mistakes. 

“We don’t dwell on things that happened, and we have a plan-ahead mentality that pushes us to not repeat mistakes. We look at our mistakes, learn from them and then we try to move forward in a different way,” says Terry’s son and the next CEO in training, Tony Ketterling. 

Tony’s admiration for his father’s way of thinking and success as a farmer is clear in the way he talks about TLK Dairy and his goals for the farm. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can while I can. I’m paying attention to the way he does things and the way he thinks, so that when I need to make a big decision, I can make an intelligent one,” says Tony as he reflects on his father’s work on the dairy.

With more than 10,000 cows and 9,000 acres to manage, Terry, Tony and everyone else at TLK are focused on thinking of solutions that will help ensure the future of the dairy. “We want to keep making progress to ensure TLK is here 30, 40 and 50 years down the road,” says Tony. 

Here are a few details about two big projects the Ketterlings have recently added to their farm to progress and become more efficient. 

THE PANTRY

“After years of watching feed blow away, I was ready to do something about it,” says Terry about the new commodity barn at TLK Dairy. After visiting several other farms with enclosed feed storage facilities over the course of about five years, Terry decided to truly go for it when building the Pantry on his farm.

Driving by this large, enclosed building on the road, I could tell it is big; however, as I rode the big, yellow school bus being used for tours on the farm over the bridge overlooking the entire facility, I am in utter amazement at its monumental capacity. 

This expansive tin building, which stretches larger than a football field, is a hub of movement — from semi-trucks dumping feed through the wired grid of the bridge overhead to loaders bustling from commodity to commodity to create the perfect ration of feed.

Just from watching the semis and tractors come and go from the Pantry, you could say all spectators are impressed — myself included. But, as I talked to Terry about more details behind this large project, I am enthralled by the many aspects he had enough foresight to prepare for from the beginning. Every question I asked about logistics and longevity are given a thought-out answer and plenty of reasoning for doing things a certain way. 

From adding extra fans to keep dust to a minimum, to building a lean-to along the back to catch and reuse collected feed dust to having backpack blowers to keep it clean — the Pantry is a true work of art. 

While the Ketterlings will need a year or two of full operation to see the savings it’s providing, Terry and Tony alike believe this investment was smart and effective for their farm. 

The Nursery

One of the other large projects the Ketterlings completed over the past year is a new set of calf-raising facilities that bring calf comfort and care to the next level. Five long buildings sit side by side to house a total of 1,500 little babies nestled in fresh, golden straw. 

The planning stage leading up to the build of these facilities took a lot of hands-on research. “We planned for about eight months and visited other farms in Idaho and Iowa to see what they were doing, which helped us decide what type of facility would work best for us here at TLK,” said Tony as he thinks back to the beginning stages of this now-finished project. 

The calves are in group pens where they can socialize with their friends of similar age and size. With the large space they have, it’s not uncommon see sprightly little, speckled legs and hooves stretched high in the air as they play and enjoy their luxurious lifestyle. 

A thermometer and automated system optimizes temperatures and air flow 24/7, which keeps the calves happy and healthy. The billowing, plastic curtains on either side of each building are controlled by a thermostat that raises and lowers them to let air flow or to keep heat in — depending on the Idaho-countryside weather. The fans throughout the building are also on the same systems to keep the building ventilated and help cool the calves on warm days.