5/15/2017 3:18:00 PM Toddlers and tiestalls Hanke shares dairy passion with children
Melissa Hanke entices a calf to eat grain at her 100-cow dairy near Marshfield, Wis. Hanke said sharing life lessons daily with her children is one of the greatest joys of being a mother and dairy farmer. PHOTO BY CASSIE OLSON
Melissa and Michael Hanke raise three children – (from left) Madison, Marvin, and Maverick – and milk 100 cows on their dairy farm near Marshfield, Wis. With Michael working full-time off the farm, Melissa manages the dairy with her father, Eric Gerlach. PHTOO SUBMITTED
MARSHFIELD, Wis. - Fourth-generation dairy farmer Melissa Hanke takes pride in two things: being a mother and caring for cows. Both have their challenges, but combined have made for a lifestyle she is thankful for. Hanke is raising three children - Madison, 3, Marvin, 2, and Maverick, 1 - with her husband, Michael. She also manages the dairy with her father. They milk 100 cows in the farm's tiestall barn, raise 35 steers and 20 beef cow-calf pairs near Marshfield, Wis. Growing up, Hanke always loved her family's dairy. After graduating from University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a degree in animal science, however, she decided to pursue a career off the farm in the breeding industry. Two and a half years later, in 2003, she returned to the farm to live out her calling. "I learned a lot during that time off the farm, but was glad to be back," Hanke said. Seven years down the road, in 2010, Hanke was participating in an intramural softball league where she was first introduced to Michael. After a date to the county fair that summer and a year of courtship that followed, the couple engaged before marrying in September 2012. Both coming from farming backgrounds, the Hankes were eager to start a family on the farm. Hanke said it was never a doubt they wanted their family to be close in age. "I always wanted to have children who were close in age," Hanke said. "They are all at that age where they need their mom, and I wouldn't change it. They play and grow well together." With Michael working full-time off the farm as a welder-fabricator, Hanke has a busy day to manage the dairy. Every morning, she heads down the road to the farm at 3 to begin chores. Michael gets the kids up and ready before Hanke returns to take their daughter to school at 7:30. Upon returning to the farm, Hanke does general farm chores and feeds the animals, often times with her children beside her, before afternoon milking at 3:45. "I get to work alongside my kids," Hanke said. "We have conversations every day about where food comes from. It's a joy to be with them." Hanke's parents, Eric and Julianne Gerlach, who live on the farm, are vital to both the herd and family. Hanke said she is thankful for their help in watching the children when necessary and helping on the farm. "When you're a mother and a farmer, you can't do it alone," Hanke said. "It's nice when I have an appointment to get to or something going on off the farm, my parents are always willing to help where needed." While working alongside her children brings her joy, Hanke said it does not come without its fair share of stress. The biggest challenge in managing a dairy and raising a family is safety, Hanke said. "We've been drilling safety into them since day one. My dad taught me that as a kid, and now I'm doing the same as a mother," Hanke said. "Thankfully, they've been learning the importance of farm safety early on." Hanke said the life lessons and values she is able to share with her children are second to none. Being young and on the farm, she said her children have been exposed to some of life's greatest wonders. "As a farmer, we give life every time a calf is born and feel the pain when an animal dies. My children are able to witness the full circle of life and understand the value of each day in that respect," Hanke said. As the Hankes have grown their family, they have learned that planning for things, such as field work and daily chores, circle around the children. Hanke said as their family grew from three to five, that priority became even more evident. "One kid was easy; three is challenging," Hanke said. "Days are ultimately decided around naps, who has to go where and which child is spending the day with who." Likewise, three young children have also meant cutting back on commitments in Hanke's schedule. Once an avid volunteer, she said she is stepping away from any extra curricular activities. "I used to do a lot of volunteer work with the 4-H and county fair, which I've stepped back from until my kids are able to participate," Hanke said. "For now, the children are my No. 1 focus, and I certainly wouldn't have it any other way." Hanke said her husband would like to one day return to the farm full time, at which time she would consider finishing a nursing degree she began last year. "I started school for nursing, but it got to be too much with the farm and kids," Hanke said. "That is something I might pursue again once we have some more flexibility with the farm and kids. My husband would love to get back to the farm one day." For now, however, Hanke is relishing in the daily adventures of farming and motherhood. While each day can be challenging, she said it is well worth it. "I love the independence, cows and having my kids working beside me each day," Hanke said. "I get to see the progression of the farm and share these special moments with my family. You can't beat that."