Women in Dairy: Kathleen Hafemeister

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Hustisford, Wisconsin
Dodge County
120 cows

Tell us about your farm and family. My husband, Dave, and I have two children. Our daughter, Alayna, will be turning 11, and our son, Ethan, just turned 9. This was Dave’s parents’ farm. He grew up here and bought the farm the same day that he proposed to me — New Year’s Eve in 2009. We have made changes to the farm since we were married. We built a heifer barn and dry cow barn and added onto our freestall barn twice. Our cows are milked by two Lely robotic milking systems that we installed in 2014. The robots were a great decision for us. Last year, we built a machine shed. We farm 300 acres and have one full-time employee. Dave’s parents help when needed. His mom likes to drive tractor, and his dad likes to work in the shop.

What is a typical day like for you on the dairy? I am usually the first one up. I take care of the calves so that I can get back to the house and get the kids off to school. I’ll do additional barn chores after that and treat sick cows if needed. I also pay bills in the morning and do any accounting or bookwork that needs to be done. I will then run errands or get parts. With two kids active in sports, my afternoon consists of a lot of driving to get them where they need to be. I start calves again around 4:30-5 p.m. to be done in time to attend the kids’ activities at night and make dinner. I also work as a relief employee a few times per month at Country Veterinary Clinic in Rubicon, after having worked as a veterinary technician at Cedarburg Veterinary Clinic for 19 years be-fore deciding to work on the farm full time. My vet tech skills, such as giving IVs, come in handy on the farm, and we try to do a lot of the treating of calves and cows ourselves.

What decision have you made in the last year that has benefited your farm? We refinished our old milk barn for housing calves, which has made calf raising more efficient. Previously, we were housing calves in multiple spots. It’s nice in winter because I don’t have to carry water to a building that has no running water. I like the Calf-Tel pens, and we have added more since moving the calves into one barn. I pride myself on having very few calf losses. I try to catch things early and feed top-quality milk replacer and grains.  

Tell us about your most memorable experience working on the farm. I have a good memory and a bad memory. The good one is the day we started up the robots. It was crazy with the inspectors here and all the people helping push cows through and a newborn baby at my side. My son was just 7 days old. The bad memory happened on Valentine’s Day this year when a cow charged me in the freestall barn and knocked me down. I knew right away that I hurt my knee. Luckily, Dave and our employee, Mike, were there to get her off of me. Also, it was cold so I was wearing heavy clothes, which offered protection. I had a torn ACL, a damaged meniscus and severe bone bruising and had to have knee surgery in April. I had to take a couple weeks off after the injury and a couple weeks off after the surgery. During my recovery, a neighbor girl fed the calves, and we were grateful to have her help. This accident changed my outlook on how I work with cows. Now, I won’t walk in by cows without someone else being around, and I won’t go in by any cows with new calves.

What have you enjoyed most about dairy farming or your tie to the dairy industry? I enjoy watching the calves grow up and seeing their individual personalities. They each have their quirks in how they act. I also enjoy the health aspect of raising calves. Being a veterinary technician, I like knowing the whys of sickness and medicine and am always trying to investigate ways of keeping the veterinary interest in me alive. 

What is your biggest accomplishment in your dairy career? The decision to get robotic milkers is our biggest accomplishment. Our interest was piqued at a workshop about 12 years ago on a small farm that had put in robots. This was early on, and there were very few robots in this part of the state. We had to travel quite the distances to look at robots because it was new technology at the time. That year at World Dairy Expo, we started looking at brands. We knew what milk price we needed in order to make it work and were able to get a loan. People tried to tell us not to do it, but we thought it would be good for us, and it is. It’s not less work. It’s just different work and gives us flexibility with our kids’ schedules. The downside of robots is that you are always on call. 

What are things you do to promote your farm or the dairy industry? We like to give tours. I love when people come to our farm and we can show them what we do. We also tell friends of ours who have never been to a farm to visit. There were a lot of people who wanted to see our robots initially, and a couple of farms that saw them did put in robots afterward, so that is a good feeling. We have also been a part of Farm City Day for Dodge County, welcoming fourth-grade students to our farm. Next summer, we are hosting the Dodge County Dairy Brunch.

What advice would you give another woman in the dairy industry? I am still looking for advice myself, but one thing I have learned is that it is better not to plan. It’s OK to be spontaneous. I can have my whole day planned out, but then the vet clinic calls asking if I can work, and there goes the whole day. I have found that the best trips and unexpected outings happened as a result of a last-minute decision. I would also recommend having two washing machines side by side — one for barn clothes and one for good clothes. When my husband comes in with sandy, dirty clothes, I’m so glad I can put them in the old washer. 

When you get a spare moment, what do you do? We like to get out on the lake as a family. Dave grew up water skiing, and I grew up wake boarding, so we like to do that. I also attend the kids’ sporting events, and I’ve been trying to do more volunteering at school as well as be a part of various school functions and groups. We also go snowmobiling in the winter. I used to play volleyball, but I’ve had to put that on hold after hurting my knee. As the kids get older, I will maybe take up volleyball again. I like to stay active. 

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