Ann Kieler works on time sheets on her family’s dairy near Platteville, Wis. 
PHOTO BY RON JOHNSON
Ann Kieler works on time sheets on her family’s dairy near Platteville, Wis. PHOTO BY RON JOHNSON
    PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – The Kielers know farming with family can be difficult.
    “I remember thinking it’s one of the hardest things anyone could ever do,” Leah Kieler said. “But I also think anything that’s great takes a lot of work. As difficult as it is, it’s also that good.”
    Making it even better for the Kieler women is having each other to lean on – whether it comes to areas of farming or being a mom. Two generations of the Kielers – Ann Kieler, together with her daughter, Renee Clark, and daughter-in-law, Leah Kieler – are the female side of the ownership force that make up Kieler Farms, Inc., where they milk 1,600 cows near Platteville, Wis.
    “If we didn’t have each other, I don’t know what we would do,” Leah said.
    They farm together with their husbands – Ann’s husband, Louie, Leah’s husband, Eric, and Clark’s husband, Matt – along with Louie’s brother, George, and his son, Daniel.
    Each person has his or her area to manage. For the women, Leah is the parlor manager and leads the human resources division, while Clark feeds the milking herd and a portion of the heifers. Ann does the accounting work along with providing childcare, running errands and helping out where needed.
    Four days of the week, Clark and Leah send their kids to daycare. On the weekends and evenings during fieldwork, Ann will watch the kids when needed. One weekday, Leah and Clark have the kids with them on the farm.
    “I think we’ve done a really good job of the balancing act,” Clark said. “They may not be on the farm every minute of every day, but they’re very exposed to it. There are days when they come in the tractor with me or feed calves as they’re older. I think in their minds, they’re on the farm all the time.”
    They all agree that having childcare away from the farm is important with their current set up. It is a lot different than when Ann raised kids.
    “We milked 50 cows,” she said. “I took my kids out to the barn with me right from the get-go. Everything was all right there. Now the equipment has gotten so much bigger, and we’re so much more spread out. It’s hard for these two to do the same thing I did.”
    Ann also sees it as a way for them to have better opportunities on the dairy.
    “Because they have access to daycare and they have each other, it allows them to go out and be more of a manager in their role on the farm,” Ann said. “I would only go out and help, not take over an area of the farm, because that’s about as far as I could take it because I was raising the kids.”
    They rely on each other just as much as they do childcare.
    “Ann is there to watch the kids or pick them up if I can’t,” Leah said. “Or if I have to feed the calves on the weekend [Clark] can watch my kids for me.”
    They have also created their own support network among the three of them.
    “We’re going through the same life stages and our kids are so close in age, so that is helpful,” Clark said about her kids, Kendra, 5, Addison, 3, and Savannah, 1, and Leah’s kids, Reegan, 6, Jodi, 4, and Parker, 1.
    Leah agreed.
    “I know Ann went through some of the stuff I’m going through, so I know I can ask her for advice,” she said. “And I’m going through the same stuff as [Clark], so we can just vent about it to each other. [Clark] and I have become best friends.”
    The women also feel supported by the men in their family.
    “It’s the village mentality,” Clark said. “For example, if one of the kids is sick and can’t go to school or daycare, you have to be home with them. That’s times when Mom watches kids or Dad says he’ll do my work. I think everyone in our family does such a great job of making it work. Everyone knows that family and farm is important.”
    Because both dairy farming and being a mom requires a lot of commitment, the women sometimes feel the pressure of being pulled one way or the other.
    “I think women have this thought that balancing [both farming and being a mom] means equal and you’re good at everything at the same time,” Clark said. “The balancing act is that the scale is broken. Some days are good in one part and other days are not and it’s knowing it all evens out and it will all be OK.”
    Leah said flexibility in scheduling and knowing when certain roles take priority helps her be successful in all areas of life.
    “It’s important to know when to say I have to be a mom or I have to be a wife or I have to be a farmer,” she said. “There are days when I have to feed the calves. Someone has to do it. But there are other days when I need to be with my kids because I haven’t seen them much in two weeks. Some days I can do both, but some days you can’t and you have to prioritize it.”
    Perhaps one of the biggest ways they have been able to make busy fieldwork days fit with family is through their creation called the snack shack; it is an enclosed trailer they have set up with a refrigerator, microwave and coffee maker, and stocked with plates, utensils, condiments, snacks, tables and chairs. When the family is working in the field, each of the women prepares one portion of the meal for the evening – main dish, side or dessert – and they rotate throughout the rest of the week.
    “After we pick the kids up from daycare, we take the snack shack out to the farm site where they are filling bunkers,” Leah said. “Everything we need is in there. The kids bring their bikes and it’s a way for them to see their grandpa and their dads.”
    When not using the snack shack during harvest season, the Kielers leave the trailer next to the barn for their employees to use or grab a snack.
    “It’s amazing and makes our lives so easy,” Clark said.
    The bond the Kieler women share has also made their farming and mom life easier.
    “I just don’t think we could do it without each other,” Leah said. “I feel like I have partners. I don’t feel alone.”