September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"Working with kids every day is satisfying," Ward said. "They're inquisitive, on the go and ready for new adventures. I helped them learn the basics."
Ward is still on the move, keeping up with the adventures and teaching the basics - but not to young children. Ward decided to jump back into the dairy industry and has switched from teaching kids to caring for calves. In February, Ward and her husband, Randy, built a calf barn with automated calf feeders and started custom raising calves.
"Once I left (teaching), there was this void," she said. "I needed to get back into the dairy operation end of things."
But this new calf raising business hasn't been Ward's first venture back into the dairy industry. Over the last 25 years, she has been working on farms and for dairy businesses. Each position always gradually led her to working with calves and heifers.
"I just have a passion for the younger animals," Ward said. "They're just more my size and I can control them a little better."
After eight years of teaching preschool, Ward grabbed the opportunity to be a partner in a dairy. During her 10 years there, Ward gained experience in a variety of jobs around the farm, including caring for calves. When the dairy dispersed, she moved to a large herd in Wisconsin where her main duties were milking cows. Gradually, she took over responsibility of calf chores as well.
After a year, Ward moved back to Minnesota and worked for another dairy as assistant an herdsperson and, again, found her way to the calf barn. The four years at that farm helped prepare her for the next opportunity at Daly Farms in Lewiston where her job included caring for newborns, feeding about 210 calves and breeding 75 heifers. Five years as the primary calf caretaker at Daly Farms gave her even more experience to use in her current position as Calf and Heifer Specialist for a major nutrition company. She helps dairies of all sizes better their operation in the calf and heifer division, and she also sells products such as calf starter.
"If I gain their business, that's just a perk in my book," Ward said. "But if I can overall help that dairy with the health of their animals, that's my long term goal. I see a lot of producers out there struggling with that end of their world - the neonate."
After five years as a Calf and Heifer Specialist, there was still a void to fill. She wanted her own facilities to raise calves and decided to build a barn to custom raise calves in addition to her current job.
"This way I can walk the walk and talk the talk," Ward said. "I think it gives you more credibility when you can really relate with the dairy producers that are out there, whether it's the successes they're having or the struggles they're having. I don't care what size you are or what capacity you have on that farm, I still think everyone has those peaks and valleys."
And after visiting and helping numerous farms, Ward can see some similarities where dairies need improvement in their calf management.
"I think the problem on farms right now is not treating calves quick enough and for the duration they need," she said.
Colostrum quantity and quality is another aspect Ward likes to push producers to work on improving.
"Getting as much good colostrum into them as you can will boost calves more than you can imagine," Ward said.
Ward said producers especially need to watch for one potentially devastating disease: mycoplasma.
"It's definitely a challenge for everybody because there are so many different strains of it and there's not a quick fix to it," she said. "It's a tough one because it takes forever to diagnose. It's such a slow going organism and there's no magic bullet out there that can take care of it ASAP."
Mycoplasma is transferred through saliva and mucus. Because it does not have a cell wall like typical bacteria, antibiotics won't take care of the disease. And Ward said mycoplasma is more prevalent in the Midwest than many producers realize.
But Ward is ready to confront any calf challenges that come her way. It's part of the reason she loves calf care.
"There's a piece of mind when you can understand the issue that is presented and either conquer that challenge or somehow move around that challenge and have a better animal overall," Ward said.
Ward said she only sees calf health and nutrition improving in the future, especially since more producers are recognizing the value in their heifer calves. There is also research being done on calf management with automated calf feeders and the standards of using waste milk versus powder milk.
"I think within the last 10 years calf raising has come huge leaps and bounds from where we used to be," Ward said. "I think they (producers) understand that this is their future. Without doing a good job, they're not going to have the longevity of having a dairy."
In addition to filling that void in her life, Ward will now be able to combine two of her favorite careers with her new calf raising venture: caring for calves and teaching (her own) kids.
"I didn't want my two little girls to just be in love with Barbies and not have anything else to do," Ward said. "I wanted them to experience what it's like having animals around."[[In-content Ad]]