FOND DU LAC, Wis. – David and Katy Lammers did what most people said could not be done. They got into farming all on their own – not through one of their own families or another established farm. Defying all odds and never willing to give up, the young couple is now living their dream.
    David and Katy milk 44 Holsteins in their tiestall barn on a farm they began renting in 2012 and then purchased in 2017 in Fond du Lac, Wis.
    The couple has four children – Dawson, 12, Lilly, 5, Cora, 4, and Hope, 2. Katy works full time as a crop insurance adjuster but also helps on the farm whenever she can.
    The Lammers started small, renting only the barn at first, then some of the land, then the house, before finally buying the entire property.
    “We always knew we wanted to farm,” David said. “And even though it wasn’t easy getting here, it was important for us to do this on our own.”
    David grew up on a registered dairy farm in western Fond du Lac County and farmed with his parents until 2009, while Katy grew up on a farm near her and David’s current place.
    Following their marriage in 2011, Katy and David began searching for a farm to rent. Katy, who David describes as fearless, led their journey.
    “We asked a lot of people if we could rent from them or if they knew of anyone willing to rent to us, but everyone said no,” Katy said.
    Meanwhile, people told them it was unheard of to get into the dairy industry this way – it had to be within their own families or getting in with another family.
    “We ran into so much negativity, which makes you stop and think maybe I shouldn’t do this,” David said. “What am I getting myself into? But I’m glad we didn’t listen to the naysayers.”
    David and Katy’s persistence paid off. After asking dozens of people about renting, the Lammers family finally got the yes they were looking for one summer day in August 2011. Jeff Ferguson and his father, Francis, farmed down the road from where Katy grew up. Jeff had sold his milk cows four years prior and was willing to rent the barn to the couple.
    “Jeff was a great landlord,” David said.
    The Lammerses set up a five-year lease with Ferguson and put an ad in a paper looking for 44 cows to buy – enough to fill up the barn. Coincidently, a farmer from North Freedom, Wis., with exactly that amount responded to the ad. He wanted to sell his herd and keep all the cows together, making it the perfect arrangement.
    The Lammerses worked with the Farm Service Agency to secure a loan.
    “We had no equity going in, but that didn’t matter,” David said. “FSA worked around all of that. They helped us get the loan to buy our cows, and eventually, the loan to buy our farm. They were super helpful. Within one week, we had the money for the cows.”
    The couple rented an apartment two miles away from the dairy.
    “Our first couple weeks on the farm were really hard,” Katy said. “Getting cattle used to the barn and the train (a railroad track butts right up to the farm) was a challenge. Our fifth day in, a cow hung herself on the bunk. It was so discouraging.”
    When the Lammerses’ landlord passed away in March 2013, Francis Ferguson got the farm back from his son on a land contract. All the seed was already bought, and Francis asked the Lammerses if they would be willing to plant it that year.
    “Although Katy and I are more cow people than crop people, we agreed to it, renting the land on a one-year lease,” David said.
    At the end of that year, Francis wanted to move, so he rented the house to the Lammerses. In 2014, David and Katy bought the machinery and milking equipment. And in October 2017, they bought the 216-acre property on a land contract and became the farm’s official owners.
     “A lot of people helped us get our start,” Katy said. “My dad was especially supportive. He gave us nine bred heifers when we started farming and every now and then, he will surprise us with a cow or heifer. He’s also really good at fixing things.”
    Full of hope and optimism, the Lammers family stays positive even when the dairy economy struggles.
    “We try to keep things in perspective and keep our priorities in the right order,” David said. “Farming is our dream. We always wanted to do this. But we’ve done other things, too. We realize farming is not the most important thing; family comes first. We take each day as it comes, and I’m thankful I get to wake up every day and do what I love.”  
    The Lammerses’ cows are now paid off, and the machinery is almost paid off as well.
    “We’re not going to take out any more debt,” David said. “When we got into this, we knew it was possible to have bad years. When we first started, we had some really good years, but things can turn south quick. You have to be creative and think outside the box, especially when times are tough. … I try to be smart with our money and save wherever I can. For example, I like to take advantage of early-payment discounts whenever possible.”
    The Lammerses did not get into farming the conventional way and took many little steps to get to where they are today. But, paving their own path was important to these dairy farmers.
    “Most people don’t get into dairying the way we did,” David said. “But we’re proof it can be done.”