Olivia Hennes pets her oldest cow, 10-year-old Dash, May 6 on her farm near Seymour, Wisconsin.  
Olivia Hennes pets her oldest cow, 10-year-old Dash, May 6 on her farm near Seymour, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

SEYMOUR, Wis. – For over a month, Olivia Hennes has called a farm near Seymour her new home. The 25-year-old moved her cows April 16 and closed on the farm April 22. The following week, Hennes moved to the property as well.
“Everything went as seamless as it possibly could,” said Hennes, who is settling into her new facilities.

Hennes milks 45 cows in the farm’s 62-stall tiestall barn which she hopes to fill in the next year.  
The barn includes four maternity pens and a stationary mixer upstairs. Hennes started feeding a total mixed ration the day the cows moved in, and as a result, milk production went up 17 pounds per cow per day. She also has the option to send TMR to the outdoor bunk.
A heifer barn with various-sized free stalls and individual calf stalls is attached to the tiestall barn along with a commodity shed where Hennes stores sawdust. A loafing barn and freestall shed are connected to the main barn as well. In addition, the farm includes a heated shop and a large shed, but Hennes’ only equipment is a skidloader and two blowers.
“This is way more than I ever thought I would end up with,” she said.
Hennes is a first-generation farmer like her predecessors, Merlin and Peggy Rohm, whom she purchased the farm from. It was the Rohms’ intention to help a first-generation farmer get their start. They received help once, too, and wanted to pay it forward. They timed the sale of their cows with the sale of the farm, and the barn only sat empty for a month.
The daughter of an A.I. technician, Hennes’ love for farming sprouted at a young age as she tagged along to farms with her father. The farmers loved to see her and let Hennes feed calves and help with other chores. When one farmer asked Hennes if she wanted to show a calf at the fair, she jumped on the opportunity and joined 4-H in the third grade. Animals were the perfect companion for a shy, timid kid like Hennes.
“I liked animals,” she said. “That was my thing.”
Looking for a way to finance their daughter’s college education, Hennes’ parents, Dave and Jeanne, decided to choose cattle over stock market investments. Her dad asked one of his clients, Marvin Karweick, if he could put embryos in a few of his heifers with the goal of getting a bull into stud. As their business partner, Karweick would share the profits with Hennes and her father.
“We put three embryos in and they all settled,” Hennes said. “We got two heifers – Basil and Juletta, and a bull named Flawless. All the stars aligned, and he went to stud right out of the gate.”
Their early taste of success led the trio to implant more embryos, and a total of four bulls made it to stud. Hennes and Karweick split ownership on the original animals, and Ovina Holsteins was created. Combining Olivia’s and Marvin’s names formed the prefix Hennes continues to use today.
“I did embryos and flushing for a lot of years and started buying show cattle here and there,” Hennes said. “Marvin let me house my animals at his place.”
However, when Karweick was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Hennes had to find a new home for her cattle. She had about eight head when a farmer named Bruce Martin approached Hennes about buying Karweick’s half of the cattle and offered to house them on his farm.
“Like Marvin, this is another example of people being more kind than they have to,” Hennes said.
The plan was for Hennes to sell her cattle before she started college. Instead, she continued growing her herd. While in high school, she received a $1,000 grant from the Seymour FFA Alumni to put toward an embryo flush, which resulted in many heifers.  
Hennes began working for Bob Schlimm in 2012 when she was in high school. Schlimm became a valuable mentor to Hennes who continued working for the dairy farmer throughout college.
“Bob taught me a lot,” Hennes said. “He showed me how to operate machinery, drive a skidloader.”
Following her graduation from college in 2017, Hennes started milking her herd of 12 cows at Schlimm’s farm. Schlimm was retiring and helped Hennes get on her feet. Thanks to the project she and her parents started years prior, Hennes came out of school with little debt. Hennes built her herd over a 15-year timespan and now has about 100 head of livestock.
“I buy cows as I can afford them from small, closed herds,” Hennes said. “I look for nice, vaccinated cows. That’s my buying strategy if the price is right. The cows are my babies, and they all have names.”
Hennes’ herd is semi-seasonal with the majority of animals calving in spring and summer. The number of cows milking ebbs and flows but never falls under 30. However, Hennes said that will change now with the bigger barn, and she will probably never have less than about 45 cows milking.
“I’m hooked on this system,” she said. “It works for me. For a couple months, life is really easy. It was a little overwhelming the first week in May when six calves were born. I have 15 animals due this month, but that’s the worst of it. The rest will freshen between June and September.”
Many of Hennes’ heifers are bred with sexed semen. Hennes also breeds quite a bit of beef, and calves born in winter are often Limousin crosses.
“It doesn’t make financial sense to raise more heifers than I need,” Hennes said. “I try to limit the amount of heifers I have; I would rather buy a cow.”
Hennes’ dad breeds and pregnancy checks her animals.
“I’m finding ways to save money,” Hennes said. “It’s not easy. Everything is expensive.”
Hennes ships her milk to Red Barn, a small plant that only takes milk from small herds with outdoor and pasture access.  
“Red Barn has high standards, and you’re held accountable,” Hennes said. “I have to undergo a Humane Society inspection, which is more intense than a regular farm inspection. But I do get paid more for my milk, which helps with cash flow.”
Hennes owns seven acres and purchases her feed. She is also working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to turn 22 acres into pasture. Hennes plans to raise heifers on pasture during warm months and rotationally graze.
“I’d like to increase acreage someday,” she said. “My goal is to provide 20% of my cows’ diet from grass and 80% from TMR, which would give me the health benefits of pasture without losing production.”
From Karweick to Schlimm to Martin, Hennes has a long list of mentors, including people she met through 4-H and FFA.
“Without them, things wouldn’t have worked out for me like they did,” Hennes said. “When it comes to caring for cattle, Sue Christensen and Debra Kiersch were also really good mentors to me. I think it’s important to keep younger people involved in agriculture, including those who don’t grow up on farms. Share what you’re good at with people who want to learn, and if people share with you, be thankful and don’t take it for granted.”
A month into farm ownership, Hennes is putting down roots where she can prosper and continue living her dream. Benefitting from the kindness of others, Hennes has a deep appreciation for the help she received on her journey.
“I started at ground zero,” Hennes said. “I didn’t know anything, but I picked up a lot of stuff along the way. People being kind really helped, and I’m grateful for that.”