Dairy Profile: Michelle Popp

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Michelle Popp
Unity, Wisconsin
Clark County
22 cows, 50 heifers
How did you get into farming? I grew up farming and married right into it after high school.

What are your thoughts and concerns about the dairy industry for the next year? The biggest concerns for the dairy industry are cost of inputs (supplies, fuel, feed, etc.) and labor. The milk price is up now, but if it would fall and inputs would still be high, it could bring major devastation. Labor is something I don’t have to deal with, but I certainly understand the challenge for farmers who hire labor. I don’t see that improving no matter what until everyone that can work will work. Then, it’s hard to beat the wages they are paid in town.

What is a recent change you made on your farm and the reason for it? Last year, I began leaving my calves on the cows during good weather months of the year. I was impressed with their growth, how healthy they were and all the labor it saved me. I will admit the calves are crazy and wild when I wean them, simply for the fact they aren’t physically handled by me daily. But as heifers, I can’t tell the difference in personality from the calves raised in hutches. I saved a ton on straw for bedding because they were on pasture all the time. They also ate way less calf grain. I noticed less flies in our yard last year which I credited with not having calves in hutches. I do a pour-on for my cows, and that seemed to protect the calves plenty from flies.

Tell us about a skill you possess that makes dairy farming easier for you. I like to think I have good cow care. I try to catch problems way before they explode. I also do well with heifers, but calves can stump me at times. That is why leaving the calves at cow-side in the good months is a great fit for me just because they are healthy in the pasture.

What is the best decision you have made on your farm? The best decision I have made was putting in a feedline to feed my cows and heifers. It has headlocks and that helps with herd health, vaccinating, tagging and breeding.

What are three things on the farm that you cannot live without? First, I couldn’t do any of this without God and lots of prayer and thanksgiving. Second, I couldn’t do this without my family, and third, a skid loader. God must be my foundation, or I just crumble and fail and get frustrated. My family has helped me so much over the years. I can’t even begin to thank them enough. A skid loader saves me a lot of hard physical work that I used to do by hand. It is so handy for unlimited jobs. My famous saying when I work with family is, “Should I get the skid steer?”

What strategies do you use to withstand the volatile milk prices? The two strategies I use are Dairy Margin Coverage and trying to watch my inputs.

How do you maintain family relationships while also working together? Up until a couple months ago, we always had two farms, one for me and one for my husband. We had gotten married later in life and both had our own herds. We sold his farm and his herd in April. Now my husband continues to work off the farm and helps me more than he could before. So far, we have no problem working together at home in our small little barn.

What do you enjoy most about dairy farming? I am so thankful I was able to be a stay-at-home mom all these years and bring my children up with good work ethics and financial understanding. I also love seeing miracles happen all the time when the next generation of calves are born.

What advice would you give other dairy farmers? The best advice for dairy farmers is to be open to change. Very few farmers farm the same as their grandparents did. Change is sometimes hard and sometimes exciting, but we must be willing to change to survive.

What are your plans for your dairy in the next year and five years? My plans are to stay the same size as I currently am. That has not always been the case, but things change and opportunities appear. I have started a value-added business on the farm, Jersey Girls lotion, that I am excited about and want to continue to expand. I will continue to sell replacement cows and heifers to fit into my small 26-stall barn and not have to switch milk cows.

How do you or your family like to spend time when you are not doing chores? I enjoy time together with family and friends. I also enjoy flying out of here to be on a vacation, which we rarely do, but I would like to do more often. Even driving away for a day trip knowing I don’t have to milk cows that night is a real treat.

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