Rick, Rachel (holding her niece Raelynn) and Dory Kidder milk 32 cows near Shell Lake, Wis. The Kidders have been dairying since 1984.
PHOTO BY BRITTANY OLSON
Rick, Rachel (holding her niece Raelynn) and Dory Kidder milk 32 cows near Shell Lake, Wis. The Kidders have been dairying since 1984. PHOTO BY BRITTANY OLSON
    SHELL LAKE, Wis. –  The milk pump flipped on at 6 a.m. on a frosty Friday morning at Rick and Dory Kidder’s farm southwest of Shell Lake, Wis. As the sun came up through the snow-coated trees and buildings, it illuminated a world coated in winter’s shimmering glitter.
    Unfortunately for the Kidders, who milk 32 cows, the snow from the night before threw a wrench in their plans for the day.
    “We farm with our neighbor, Sam Mechtel, who milks 80 cows, and Sam was going to come over with his combine and pick our corn today,” Rick said. “The fresh snow will plug up the sieves on the combine, so it will have to wait.”
    As milking progressed, Dory began to pull down small squares of dry hay for the cows to eat before heading out in the bitter cold to mix corn silage and haylage.
    “We like to feed them a lot of dry hay to form a nice mat in their rumens before they get their silage and haylage,” Dory said.
    The Kidders also shared their farm’s history as the number of cows needing to be milked dwindled down to the last one, as well.
    “Rick’s family is originally from the area, and he’s the youngest of 11 children,” Dory said. “They logged and milked cows throughout the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. Their cows lived in the woods, so they would take buckets out there and milk by hand. Then in the late 1940s, the state of Wisconsin wanted to eradicate brucellosis and their herd was depopulated. After that, they moved to Illinois.”
    Illinois was where Rick was born, and where he met Dory.
    “I’m not from a farm, but I always wanted to be a farmer,” Dory said as she ran the silo, mixing corn silage and haylage in a wheelbarrow with a pitchfork to push into the mangers one load at a time. “I remember getting cards in school with careers for boys, such as farmers and doctors, and careers for girls like nurses and secretaries. I would always check off farmer even though that was supposed to be a boy’s job. I took over my older sister’s paper route and bought a horse, which I kept at a neighbor’s farm. The neighbor said if I would help with milking that would cover my boarding, and that’s how I got into milking cows.”
    The Kidders married in 1983 and moved to Shell Lake the following year. They raised three children: Randy, Kelly and Rachel. Rachel was home from college for the weekend and was babysitting Randy’s 11-month-old daughter, Raelynn, for the day.
    Shortly before milking ended, Rachel bundled Raelynn up in a snowsuit and face mask to head to the barn to feed calves.
    “Raelynn loves animals, but she really loves her grandma,” Rachel said. “As soon as Grandma shows up, the rest of us are chopped liver.”
    Rick said the same thing as he cuddled his granddaughter while managing a snuggly kitten at the same time. Rachel took the quarter bucket and fed milk to the cats.
    “She loves me, but she especially loves Dory,” Rick said as Raelynn looked at him with bright eyes. “At one time the cows were our pride and joy. Not anymore. Our kids and granddaughter are our pride and joy now.”
    After finishing feeding calves and cows, Dory and Rachel headed to the horse barn with Raelynn in tow to feed grain to the horses. Dory has five horses and a pony, and gave riding lessons for many years. Ribbons and trophies decorate the walls of the horse barn, gleaming in the early morning light.
    “I will still work with horses and their new or prospective owners, giving them the tools to work together as a team,” Dory said. “Otherwise, the horse often gets sold or the owner is injured because they don’t realize just how much work goes into maintaining a good riding horse. I like to work through those problems with them so that they have a good relationship for their riding careers going forward.”
    Dory also broke open the ice on their stock tank after feeding the horses their grain.
    “I really don’t want to fire up the stock tank heaters,” she said. “It adds another $200 to our electric bill.”
    After finishing morning chores in the dairy and horse barns, the Kidders still had a full day ahead. Dory needed to go to the neighbors’ and haul a few round bales home, while Randy was coming later in the day to pick up some staves from the silo that Rick tore down the week before.
    “It was leaning pretty bad, and it needed to come down,” Rick said of the silo.
    All told with the chill of an early winter and milk prices weighing on their minds, yet still needing to forge on, the Kidders would not want to be doing anything else.
    “It is the best way to raise a family, hands down,” Dory said. … “We wouldn’t do anything differently. This is what we want to do.”