When country comes to town
Sisters use dairy promotion to honor father’s legacy
MAUSTON, Wis. – When sisters Heidi Finucan and Abbie Erickson lost their father due to complications from a stroke 10 years ago, they were determined to honor his legacy somehow.
Then, they remembered he had been worried about the future of the dairy barn at Veteran’s Memorial Park where the Juneau County fair is held.
They decided to raise funds for a new building in his honor.
To achieve their financial goal, the sisters used a creative promotion idea. By making plywood cows, local businesses could then sponsor and decorate the cows however they liked. The cows were then lined up in downtown Mauston from Memorial Day through the Fourth of July as a way to honor June Dairy Month and their father’s legacy as a dairyman.
“We were looking for something to do as a tribute to his passing,” Heidi said. “We already had a pot started, and this was a way to keep raising that and have maintenance funds.”
The first year they did the promotion, the funds were used toward building the Robert Holig Memorial Dairy Pavilion, a dairy building at the fairgrounds named after their father.
The sisters come from Cattail Dairy, where their family milks 350 cows near Wonewoc.
Their mom, Joan Holig-McCormick, remains the owner/operator of the dairy, while Abbie is the herd and calf manager and also manages the personnel department. Abbie’s husband, Andrew, runs the heifer facility, which is on a separate site from the dairy.
Heidi works as the emergency room director in Mauston while her husband, Craig, manages herd health at the dairy. The girls’ brother, Cory Holig, is the crop and field manager and also manages the custom farming operations they provide. Cory’s wife, Cassie, works off the farm as a dietitian.
Abbie and Heidi operate through the Juneau County Dairy Promotions Council to execute the promotion.
The council is a derivative of the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and uses checkoff dollars to promote the dairy industry throughout the year. Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin is a non-profit organization funded by Wisconsin dairy farmers. It was created to increase the sale and consumption of Wisconsin dairy products. Funds from the council are used for supplies, and any money earned is reinvested in Veteran’s Memorial Park.
So far, the group has helped install both a sound system – so that all the buildings are connected with speakers – and a security system with cameras. Also, concrete work has been done, and tables and chairs have been purchased to keep in the hall to enhance the fair experience.
Area businesses who participate purchase a cow for $125, while nonprofit or youth organizations purchase a cow for $50. The sponsors paint the cows however they want, and Abbie and Heidi, along with the rest of their dairy promotions committee, display the cows in town. For the past several years, the cows have been displayed in Lions Park in Mauston.
“The excitement that builds around it is great,” Abbie said. “It brings the community together, and, being at the park, it’s interesting to look at.”
The first year of the promotion, there were approximately 45 plywood cows lined up in downtown Mauston. The promotion had such a positive response that the tradition has continued for the last decade with more continually being added. This year there are over 80 cows on display.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the promotion, a theme was used for the first time – Udder Nonsense. The sisters made a contest of it, with the person or business having the winning use of the theme being awarded $50 and a bag of dairy products. The siblings used the theme themselves, decorating a cow for their own farm with milk alternatives labeled as nonsense.
Photos of each individual cow are posted on the council’s Facebook page where people can vote for their favorite cow. The cow with the most likes is deemed the winner, and the business is awarded $100 and free sponsorship for the following year.
The cutout cows are the council’s biggest fundraiser, Abbie said. Each year, two people from each promotion committee meet in person to share ideas and report to Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin how the funds were used. They were able to use the cutout cow promotion to apply for additional funding, which they received.
Abbie and Heidi head their council, along with their mother and another area farmer, Sandy Madland. The four have worked together to keep the council going over the last decade and are working hard to include more people from surrounding areas.
“We’re hoping to get some more ideas going and some more help,” Abbie said. “These funds come from checkoff dollars, so it’s really valuable for dairy farmers in the area to bring it back to their own community.”
“Raising awareness of the dairy industry and agriculture, and what the community and the county have to offer, makes an impact,” Heidi said. “Just 80 cows along a fence does a lot.”