November 13, 2021 at 6:42 p.m.

Bartender becomes dairy farmer

Madden trades in high heels for barn boots
Lisa and Dan Madden milk 400 cows and farm 650 acres near New London, Wisconsin. Lisa, a former bartender, became Dan’s right-hand man nearly three years ago when the farm was faced with an employee shortage. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
Lisa and Dan Madden milk 400 cows and farm 650 acres near New London, Wisconsin. Lisa, a former bartender, became Dan’s right-hand man nearly three years ago when the farm was faced with an employee shortage. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

By Stacey [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

NEW LONDON, Wis. – She can deliver a backward calf, drive a tanker full of manure, give vaccines, dehorn calves, treat a sick cow and operate any tractor on the farm. Just three years ago, these jobs were foreign to Lisa Madden, a former bartender. But she learned how to do all of this and more in short order when her husband, Dan, faced an employee shortage on the farm.

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“It was a sink or swim moment when I started working here,” said Lisa, who replaced two key people involved with herd health and management. “I had to come out and grab the bull by the horns and learn it all. It wasn’t easy, but Dan is a good teacher. I started out slow, and little by little, I took on more responsibility.”
Lisa and Dan milk 400 cows and run 650 acres near New London. The Maddens took over the farm in 2017 from Dan’s parents, Dan and Brenda, who continue to help on the dairy. Lisa came on board full time at the end of 2018. A party girl at heart, she traded in her high heels for barn boots and never looked back.
“It was a welcome culture shock,” Lisa said. “I grew up in the country, but I didn’t grow up on a farm, so this was all new to me. I started at ground zero, not even knowing how long a cow was pregnant. It was a lot to take in, but it was also exciting. There was a lot of trial and error, but I was driven to do it and found the work really interesting.”
Lisa received a crash course in dairy farming from Dan, the breeder and the veterinarian.
“From learning the normal temperature of a cow to learning how to diagnose and treat an animal to the best of my ability, I was taught everything from A to Z,” Lisa said. “I wondered if I was getting in over my head, but you don’t know that until you try. I was fortunate to have good teachers and patient people who worked with me. They assured me no question was stupid, and if I made a mistake, I was told to keep going because that’s how you learn.”  
Dan had faith in Lisa’s abilities and gave her any job she was willing to tackle.
“Lisa is a very fast learner,” Dan said. “I could tell she could do it. She’s the type of person that can take on almost any job out there that I can do. Some jobs are really scary and I told her, ‘If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to.’ But she would say, ‘No, I’ll try it.’ You can’t take a job away from her now. It’s funny how things evolve.”
When she was 18, Lisa began bartending at a local bar. She was still bartending three days a week when she realized Dan needed her help on the farm more.
“I loved bartending,” Lisa said. “Getting to have fun for a job was cool, but it was also demanding. I worked nights for many years and had to totally switch my schedule to mornings when I started farming and reorganize my whole life.”
But Lisa embraced her new lifestyle, transferring her passion for bartending into a passion for farming.
“I didn’t think I could do it at first,” she said. “The hardest part was that I didn’t want to let anyone down or screw up. I wanted to do things properly and efficiently otherwise you’re losing money, and farms can’t afford that.”
Now, it is hard to find a job on the farm Lisa cannot do. Her versatility and willingness to learn new tasks has made her the go-to person and a valuable asset on the farm.
“Everybody is pretty impressed,” Dan said. “I needed a right-hand man – someone who could do what I do – and Lisa was that person.”
Lisa has taken on the role of herdsman, managing overall herd heath and cows at every stage of lactation. Pre-fresh and fresh cows are her specialty, and Lisa spends a lot of time in the post-fresh pen, doing everything she can to make sure cows enter the milking group healthy. Lisa handles all calvings as well as newborn calf care through weaning.
“I love the birthing aspect,” Lisa said. “It’s pretty awesome, and we take care of most calvings by ourselves. We’re very hands-on with herd health and taking care of situations many people call vets for.”
Lisa also feeds heifers, helps clean barns, pitches calf stalls, and washes and sanitizes hutches. She does most of the chisel plowing and discing, cuts hay, runs her own feed trailer during harvest and hauls manure. While putting in 15-hour work days, the busy mother of three also makes sure to carve out time for parenting her children – Neveah, 18, Jaylynn, 14, and Brayson, 11.
“Every day is so different, and I like that,” Lisa said. “There’s a lot of learning involved. As soon as you think you know everything, you realize you don’t. You have to keep challenging yourself and trying to advance, which is something I really like about farming.”
From 5-inch stilettos to heels with sparkles or patterns, this fun-loving farmer is known for her high-heel collection.
“I was always the life of the party, and friends of mine will ask, ‘How did you go from a fun, party girl to this?’” Lisa said. “But I still like to doll up if I get the chance and wear cool hoop earrings and put big curls in my hair. I love to dance – that’s my favorite thing.”
This brave bartender was not afraid to try jobs others might say no to. When the Maddens bought a new feed trailer, Dan asked Lisa if she wanted to learn how to drive it.
“I had driven tractor before and done some tillage, but using big machinery to haul feed was a new experience for me,” Lisa said. “The first time I drove it, I could barely back up. It was very scary. Dan sat in the buddy seat for one round, and then I was on my own. He said the most important thing was, ‘Don’t hit the chopper and get the feed in the box.’”
Lisa loves to problem solve and finds it to be the most interesting part of her work.
“Whether dealing with a retained placenta, respiratory issues or a different problem, I like figuring out what’s wrong,” she said. “It’s like an investigation. I also think it’s cool to pull a slimy calf out of a cow or stick my arm in there to see if a cow is pregnant or which way a calf is coming. My friends are amazed I know how to do these things.”
Lisa believes people should try things that are outside of their comfort zone.
“Don’t be scared to learn ... you might surprise yourself,” she said. “Why put limits down?”
Lisa had the determination and self-confidence needed to succeed in a tough career like dairy farming. Now, she can fill in most anywhere and could not imagine working anywhere else.
“I’ve had a lot of support to get to this point, and I appreciate that,” Lisa said. “Farming is definitely demanding, but I love it.”


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