September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
She gets up at 3:45 in the morning to stumble out the door, drives a couple of miles to milk up to 270 goats before she heads to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville where she is double majoring in animal science and ag business.
For the past three years, Merges, 20, has worked on the dairy goat farm owned and operated by Steve and Cindy Kutsch and their son and daughter-in-law, Matt and Stephanie Kutsch.
She had milked cows for a while on a dairy for a little while before starting at the Kutsch farm, but has found her niche on the goat dairy. "I really enjoy my relationship with Steve and Matt. I feel like part of the family. When you have worked somewhere as long as I have, you know how the other people work and we do what needs to get done."
Although she quickly figured out the ins and outs of milking goats, she had to learn the start-up and tear-down of milking. "I had milked cows but had never dealt with the tank or pipeline."
Merges said she really enjoys working with the goats. "They are a lot easier to handle, you don't get dirty when you milk and a goat that is a slow milker only slows things down for 30 seconds to a minute."
She says the biggest difference between milking goats and cows is the quantity of milk, and the length of time it takes them to milk out. They milk 12 goats in about five minutes in a swing-12 parlor, with the total milking in peak season taking about two and a half hours.
Once the first group of nannies freshens, they milk three times a day until about July. Merges said one of the biggest challenges of working with goats is actually the same as with cows: getting the doelings that have just freshened to come into the parlor, same as getting heifers in the first time. "I've learned just to give them time and space. If you push and shove they will just fight you."
Most of the herd is dry in the winter, Merges explained. Nannies are typically bred in the late summer and fall, and the first kids are born in January.
Since most goats are dry in the winter, producers are paid a premium for goat milk in the winter months. The Kutsches ship their milk to Monte Chevre in Belmont, Wis.
Merges said she has always been interested in agriculture. "I've been riding horses since I was three years old. I love being outside. I like hard labor, and helping others out."
The Kutsches have been goat farming for about six years. Prior to that, they ran a beef, hog and crop operation, but they sold out of hogs about the same time they started with goats.
"I really admire them," said Merges about her employers. "They work hard; Matt works in town as well as on the farm, and his wife babysits, too. Steve is always doing something to better the farm and improve things."
Merges said the most important things she has learned working on farms "are doing hard manual labor, respecting money because I have worked hard to get it. Also, the responsibility of taking care of animals as well as I can while getting the maximum amount of profit."
In addition to school and farm work, Merges is also a volunteer firefighter in Sherrill. Both of her parents have been firefighters for years. Her mom, Nancy, has been on the department for 25 years, and her dad, Ed, has been on for 35 as well as her sister who has been on the department for five years. Her grandfather and uncle have served on the department as well.
Her dad is retired after working in manufacturing in Dubuque. Her mom is a registered nurse, as well as her older sister, Emily. Her younger brother, Mike, also works on two farms. He is a junior in high school.
After college, Merges hopes to work in feed sales or some other type of agricultural sales.[[In-content Ad]]
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