March 1, 2021 at 3:55 p.m.
The all-female class shares a passion for cows, even though the majority of students did not grow up on dairy farms. Many developed an interest in agriculture through involvement in 4-H and FFA and time spent around cows while growing up. Two of the students live on family farms.
Savanna Merrill grew up in Green Bay and started working on a farm when she was 16.
“I always wanted to work with animals, and I fell in love with cows,” Merrill said.
Alexis Doege grew up in Brillion and began working on a farm when she was a freshman in high school. Kelsie Bramstedt, from Newton, was involved in 4-H and FFA showing pigs and horses before developing an interest in cows. She worked on a farm in high school while also taking classes in the Youth Apprenticeship program at Lakeshore Technical College.
Lily Charapata was also active in 4-H and FFA and helped on a neighbor’s farm while in high school. She later took a job at Cow Town Acres in Coleman and chose Lakeshore at the recommendation of her boss, a 2011 graduate.
Lexi Kluenker grew up on a 400-cow dairy in the Manitowoc area. Her work on the farm and involvement in FFA convinced her that farming was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
Emily Kroll comes from the Maribel area and lives on her family’s 65-cow dairy. In 2017, she also took a position on a neighboring farm with 120 cows.
Alli Pankratz, of Valders, started working on a farm last year.
“I’ve been around cows for a long time and knew it was something I wanted to get involved in,” Pankratz said. “I met Emily and we decided to come to school here together.”
All the ladies love working with cows and have decided to pursue careers in the dairy industry with job titles ranging from farm owner to herd manager to A.I. technician. This group will graduate in May with a technical degree, but most are staying on to do a second year of schooling to obtain an associate degree in dairy business management.
“Jobs are not hard to come by in this industry,” said Craig Lallensack, dairy herd/agribusiness instructor at Lakeshore Technical College. “People are always looking for a herdsperson, parlor manager or calf manager. I receive emails weekly from farms interested in hiring our students. And I’m seeing more driven females that want to be in that management role on a dairy.”
Liz Gartman, fellow agribusiness instructor, agreed.
“I see the female trend growing in both the dairy herd management and agribusiness programs here at Lakeshore,” Gartman said. “We’re seeing more women involved in all aspects of agriculture, and it’s exciting to see women taking on positions previously seen as male roles.”
Gartman said women use brains over brawn when moving animals and take time to understand livestock – traits that feed into their success on the farm.
“Women tend to key into the innate things animals do,” Gartman said. “A woman’s attention to detail is really helpful in identifying sick animals, raising calves and handling fresh cows.”
Women are gaining ground in the role of dairy farmer. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, nearly 30% of U.S. farms were run by women in 2017 – a number that more than doubled since the previous Census of Agriculture conducted five years earlier. In Wisconsin, that number was even higher in 2017 at 35%.
Kroll and Kluenker both have plans to take over the family farm.
“Our farm goes back five generations, and I want to continue that trend,” Kroll said. “I’d like to shift from Holsteins to registered Brown Swiss and scale back to 40 cows. The plan is for the operation to change hands next year if I decide not to do a second year of the program.”
Lallensack, a former dairy farmer, said markets for specialty farms like the one Kroll would like to run someday do exist.
“There is still a niche for smaller-scale farms,” he said. “Farming is a wonderful way to raise a family and make a living. You have to have a mindset, a goal, and your farm can be whatever size you want.”
Lallensack is in his seventh year of teaching at Lakeshore Technical College and has seen the program’s ratio of male to female participants wax and wane over the years.
“The first year I taught the program, we had 17 students and three were females,” Lallensack said. “The second year, it flipped completely and I had one guy and seven girls in my class. The third year was split 50/50 between men and women. Last year, we had 11 students in the program – nine females and two males. It appears we may be trending toward more female students, however, the dynamic of the group is always changing.”
The dairy herd management program provides hands-on and classroom experience while covering dairy reproduction (all students became A.I. certified last fall), milk production, nutrition, animal health, fresh-cow care, computer management software and more. Birthing simulations and dissections are also part of the coursework. In addition, students learn how to do IVs and other types of treatments. To fulfill their internship requirement, each student also works on a dairy farm and must complete 218 hours of intern work in order to graduate.
Kroll’s favorite part of class is using the calving simulator.
“I have the smallest arms on our farm so it’s good to learn different techniques for delivering calves,” Kroll said. “I can play around with the calf and learn how to deliver it the best way. The simulator is really cool.”
Students also perform a necropsy on a calf to determine the cause of death by examining its lungs, intestines and stomach. During udder dissections, students learn the effects of mastitis.
“I really liked doing the calf dissection with the vets,” Bramstedt said. “It was interesting to look inside and see, for example, where the milk is going.”
The students also receive one-on-one training on dairy farms and at agricultural businesses. They visit 10 sites as part of their training, gaining firsthand experience with a veterinarian, A.I. technician, nutritionist and other industry professionals.
The Lakeshore Technical College School of Agriculture is located near Manitowoc and works in partnership with Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center. Partnering together in the name of education, the school moved its location to share a campus with the Discovery Center when the center was built in 2018.
Having embarked on an academic journey together that will help prepare them for the rigors of working in the dairy industry, the women in Lakeshore’s dairy herd management program are excited for what the future holds.
“It’s fun,” Kroll said. “We know so much about each other now, we’re like sisters.”
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