Carlie Walker preps a cow for milking during the morning shift May 12 on the farm near Jackson, Wisconsin. Walker attends the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and has worked for the Sagers for one year. 
Carlie Walker preps a cow for milking during the morning shift May 12 on the farm near Jackson, Wisconsin. Walker attends the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and has worked for the Sagers for one year. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
    JACKSON, Wis. – First-generation dairy farmer, John Sager, spent May 12 doing what he loves most – tending to his 70-cow herd and bringing a new season of crops to life. John’s Happy Holsteins in Jackson was buzzing with activity that Tuesday as John began his day at 7, kicking it off with scraping the alley and cleaning under cows. He then fed grain and protein mix to the milk cows after his sister, Jennifer Zimmerman, fed a forage mix of haylage and corn silage. It was then time to start milking.
    “Working with animals has always intrigued me,” said John, who grew up in Germantown. “We lived on a hobby farm with some chickens, rabbits and steers. But I had relatives who farmed, and I helped them out when I was growing up.”
    John started milking cows when he was 10 years old on the farm owned by his aunt and uncle. John also helped his grade-school basketball coach, Freistadt dairy farmer Steve Klug, with hay and other chores.
    “Steve was a mentor to me, showing me the ropes of dairying,” John said. “Now, he buys my bull calves. We’ve come full circle.”
    When he was 16, John and a friend started S&S Relief Milking, a business that served farms in Washington and Ozaukee counties. When the three-year adventure came to an end, John started working full time on a dairy farm. In 1996, he went out on his own. He rented a farm in Mequon for 17 years before moving to his current location – a farm he and his wife, Caryn, have rented for the past seven years and hope to purchase in the near future from brothers Gerald and Del Groth. The farm has been in the Groth family since 1909.  
    Carlie Walker milked cows with John in the 60-stall tiestall barn that morning. Walker, a student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, has been working for the Sagers part time for a year.
    Caryn fed calves and brought in switch cows from the pasture for milking before heading to her full-time job at Fredman Bag Company in Milwaukee.
    “It’s nice having extra income and health insurance,” said Caryn, who has worked at the flexible packaging business for the past 22 years.  
    Zimmerman has worked for her brother for 11 years and is a full-time fixture on the farm.
    “We couldn’t do what we do without Jennifer,” Caryn said.
    Zimmerman had a hand in introducing the couple as Caryn and her used to work together.
    “I came to the farm to get a cat and ended up getting a husband, as well,” said Caryn about how she met John.
    John and Caryn appreciate the help of various family members, including nieces and nephews. Jennifer’s children – Maria, 19, Billy, 17, and Bekah, 14, – have all worked on the farm. Billy milks three to four nights a week, while Bekah milks cows on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
    “It takes a village,” Caryn said. “And we’re fortunate that a lot of people come and help.”
    The Sagers love visitors and sharing their farm with others and also let family members and 4-H kids show their animals. The small family operation thrives on teamwork and a deep love for animals and land.
    “It’s so nice on the farm,” said Caryn, who also raises chickens and has 16 chicks that will become laying hens. “It makes you feel good to be around the animals.”
    Milking wrapped up around 10 a.m. Then, Jennifer ran the barn cleaner, scraped mats and bedded the cows. Following a visit from their breeding specialist, John went to spread manure. He then mixed feed and took care of a couple other chores.
    The Sagers farm 375 acres, and the afternoon of May 12 was devoted to planting corn.  
    John headed to the fields after lunch and planted 15 acres of Pioneer corn that will be used for grain.
    In the afternoon, Jennifer fed the milk cows again, this time adding cottonseed to the rotation. She also fed the heifers dry hay and forage mix and brought in lime.  
    “I love it here,” Jennifer said. “We have a good system, and everything works out well.”
    John finished planting around 3:30 p.m. and then moved to a 34-acre field to spread fertilizer where he planned to plant corn the following day to beat the rain that was coming on Thursday. He has 60 acres of corn in and 80 more to go. John said some of it will not get planted until first-crop hay is off. At 5:30 p.m., he headed home to start evening chores.
    “It’s been a good day,” John said. “The weather was beautiful, and we got a lot done.”