Nadya Wilkens (from left), Teri Ketter, Reese Wilkens and Tanya Wilkens stand next to the calf hutches at the Ketter farm near Malone, Wisconsin. The Ketters milk 185 cows and farm 450 acres.
Nadya Wilkens (from left), Teri Ketter, Reese Wilkens and Tanya Wilkens stand next to the calf hutches at the Ketter farm near Malone, Wisconsin. The Ketters milk 185 cows and farm 450 acres.

MALONE, Wis. – Last summer, 10-year-old Nadya Wilkens begged her dad to take her to the dairy farm down the road so she could get a job feeding calves. The young girl’s love for animals was the motivation behind her request. She wanted nothing more than to help care for the farm’s furry creatures.

“I thought it was so cool that a little girl would take that initiative,” said Teri Ketter, who farms with her husband, John, near Malone. “Nadya even told me she would give me a resume if I wanted one and that her work experience included emptying the dishwasher and pulling weeds.”

Ketter took the neighbor girl under her wing, and Nadya became Ketter’s special helper, caring for calves and helping with other chores.

“I love animals,” said Nadya, who started working for the Ketters last fall. “The calves are why I wanted to work here.”  

The Ketters, who built a robotic barn six years ago, milk 185 cows with three DeLaval robots and farm 450 acres. The Wilkens family lives next door to the Ketters, and Nadya rides a four-wheeler to the farm each morning. 

“Bottle feeding the calves is my favorite job,” said Nadya, who wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. 

Because of her young age, Ketter said she was not sure which jobs to give Nadya at first.

“She wanted to do everything,” Ketter said. “The cows are on the big side, so we decided that wasn’t a good fit. We gave her some cleaning projects, but that was kind of boring. … She helps feed the calves and the chickens and also helps move calves around. Nadya would do almost anything. She’ll spend all day here if she can.”

Animals have a special place in the heart of this young employee of the Ketters, who bottle feed newborn calves in the main dairy barn and feed calves in hutches by pail. The Ketters have about 20 calves on milk at one time.  

“Nadya has been a godsend for me,” Ketter said. “She comes to the farm rain or shine. Snow, cold and windy days do not deter her. She is here every weekend and days she is off school to take care of her calves. She spends hours making sure they are happy and healthy. She has a love of animals I have never seen before.” 

Nadya names all of the calves, calling them things like Daisy, Bambi, Tiny and Mittens. 

“My favorite calf is named Mouse,” she said. “She’s a Red and White Holstein.” 

Cocoa, the only Jersey on the farm, is Nadya’s favorite cow. 

“I like her colors,” she said. “She’s black with brown on the top.” 

Working for the Ketters might become a family thing as Nadya’s  12-year-old brother, Reese, plans to take a tractor safety course and help with fieldwork. The Ketters have known Nadya’s dad, Rob, for many years as he grew up on a farm nearby.

“This is new to me,” said Nadya’s  mom, Tanya, who did not grow up on a farm. “I’m a city girl, but when Nadya wanted to get a job at the Ketters’ farm, I told her to go for it. And Reese is looking forward to helping them out too.” 

Ketter appreciates the help and friendship of her small neighbor, and the two have developed a unique bond. 

“I like her smile,” said Ketter of the blue-eyed girl with freckles. “It brightens my day. When I broke my ankle, Nadya made me a get-well card and on it she drew my favorite cow and dog. She’s a very special little girl.”

Nadya will be in fifth grade this fall, and in addition to helping on the Ketter farm, she also plays softball, basketball and volleyball. 

“She’s a very active kid,” Ketter said.

  Typically, Nadya spends about an hour helping Ketter on weekend and summer mornings. 

“Nadya can’t always get up for school, but she’s getting up by herself this summer to go to the farm,” Tanya said. “That impressed me. She sets an alarm and wakes up about 7:30 to be to the farm by 8. Nadya absolutely loves every single animal, and she cries if she can’t go to the farm. Working there is the highlight of her week.”

Nadya is also buddies with the farm’s cats and even took one home with the hopes of keeping it. However, her dad told Nadya she could have any animal except a cat, which is how she ended up with a bunny named Noel. 

Nadya’s nurturing nature and connection with the calves continues to grow daily. The young animal lover is viewed as a blessing at the neighbor’s dairy farm where she serves as Ketter’s sidekick.

“It’s nice having Nadya around,” Ketter said. “I’m very lucky.”