The Marschall family’s 155-cow herd is housed in a compost barn constructed in 2004.
The Marschall family’s 155-cow herd is housed in a compost barn constructed in 2004. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA

    SHAKOPEE, Minn. – The past year has been difficult for the Marschalls as they mourn the loss of their wife and mother, Michelle.
    “It’s a big change without Mom,” Travis Marschall said. “She kept the family together. Everyone has their differences, but Mom was the one who listened. … She was the backbone of our family.”

    After less than a year’s battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known more commonly as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Michelle passed away at the age of 60 March 29, 2020. Three weeks later, the Marschalls were notified they had been named the 2020 Scott County Farm Family of the Year, a recognition they dedicated to Michelle as the late matriarch of the family.
    “She would have been honored to receive it if she was still alive,” Travis said.
    The Marschalls milk 155 cows on their dairy near Shakopee where family makes up the labor force of the farm.
    Until her diagnosis in summer 2019, Michelle worked full time on the farm alongside her husband, Rick.
    “She was very dedicated to the farm,” Rick said. “She didn’t like things to be out of place and wanted the place to look clean. And she was a hardworking woman. She wasn’t scared to do anything.”
    Two of their four children are involved on the farm full time: Travis, and his wife, Kally, along with their children Tucker, 12, Trevyn, 10, Taten, 3, Taylin, 18 months, and another child on the way; and Trent, who is engaged to Emily Miller.
    Although their other two children work off the farm, they pitch in on a part-time basis: Tad, and his wife, Tiff, and their children Taryn, 11, and Taya, 3; and Tanya, and her husband, Justin Graber, and their children, Kinley, 9, and Katum, 7.
    “Everyone does a little of something around here,” Kally said.
    While Travis is in charge of the herd, Trent focuses on feeding and fieldwork. Rick milks and is in charge of crops. Kally works with Travis to feed calves while Tanya does the farm’s books. Tad does a little of everything whenever he drops in to help. Rick’s brother and two nephews also pitch in when needed.
    Rick’s brother, Duane, also known to the family as Uncle Farmer, has been working together with Rick and Michelle on the crop end since the early years. Now Duane rents the Marschalls his 300 acres and does whatever fieldwork is necessary to help. He and his wife were especially helpful to the family when Michelle was battling ALS. Two nephews, Seth Wermeskirchen and Alex Stade, also pitch in when needed.
    Rick and Michelle met in high school. Rick graduated in 1975 and started farming with his parents on their farm, which is now a developed area of Shakopee. When the two were married in April 1980, they took over the farm. At the time, the Marschalls milked with buckets. As a wedding present, Rick gave Michelle a Step Saver, which would help them with their milking process as they took over the responsibilities.
    Urban encroachment forced them to look for other farmsites. In 1983, they bought their current dairy, which is a few miles down the road where Michelle grew up.
    Over the years, Rick and Michelle grew their farm and raised their children alongside them. They faced the challenges of a drought plus high interest rates during the 1980s.
    “It was tough, but we hung in there,” Rick said.
    In their younger years, the Marschall siblings helped with chores on the farm. Travis has always had a love of animals and remembers milking his first cow at the age of 6 – a fond memory of him and his mom.
    “It was in our old tiestall barn,” he said. “The cow swung over, and I fell in the gutter. My mom picked me up out of the gutter and put me right back underneath the cow and said, ‘Try again.’”
    Most of Travis’ school projects also revolved around farm work and animals. Choosing dairy farming as his career path after high school in 2005 was a natural fit for him.
    “Watching animals grow and develop into what they become is something that fascinates me,” Travis said. “You start with a calf, she matures into a cow and then that’s all because of something you did. I (artificially inseminated) a cow so I feel like that calf is a part of me that gets to grow up.”
    Taking care of calves had always been Michelle’s job since she and Rick were married.
    “She had a low mortality rate in her calves,” Travis said. “Nobody comes close to her. Raising calves was her specialty.”
    Even more important to her were her grandkids.
    “When Tucker was born, she turned into Grandma daycare,” Travis said. “She loved that more. She still did everything but had the extra duty of being Grandma. That was her pride and joy. There was no taking away being Grandma.”
    Other duties Michelle took on were bookkeeping and milking. In the early years, cows were milked in a tiestall barn. Over the years, the family upgraded their facilities. In 2004, the Marschalls built a compost barn, and in 2010, they turned the tiestall barn into a flat parlor. Three years ago, they replaced the flat parlor with a double-8 parabone parlor.
    While going about her duties, Michelle loved to take the grandkids along and give them rides on the family’s side-by-side utility vehicle. When her illness made her too weak to do much on her own, her grandkids took her for rides around the yard to give her fresh air.
    The grandkids continued their special moments with their grandma at her funeral. The grandkids held Michelle’s urn and drove to the cemetery burial site.
    “It was very sad,” Rick said. “The grandkids were giving her her last ride.”
    Despite the past year being one of mourning, the Marschalls are happy to have their memories of their wife and mother, and the life and farm they built together.
    “It was a great honor,” Rick said of receiving the farm family award. “I wish Michelle would have known. She would have been very proud of it. We worked hard our whole life together. She was proud, and I’m very proud that we’re still a family farm run all by family.”