Family Climbs “Ladder of Responsibility” at Northern Lights Dairy
Most seniors spend their last year of college, polishing their interview skills and pressing their suits. But Jennifer Holle and her husband, Andrew, spent their senior year meeting with financial analysts, bankers and architects as they pursued their dream of owning a dairy farm.
“We were trying to decide whether to expand the 125-milk cow facility to support two families or to build a brand-new one,” says Jennifer. “During that process, our banker called and asked if we’d be interested in looking at a foreclosed dairy farm that was about 45 miles away from the family dairy in New Salem. So we loaded up the pickup and took a ‘tour.’ The foreclosed dairy farm was basically an empty-shell of a facility, but its 36-stall rotary parlor was a huge upside. We then shifted gears and decided to move my husband’s 4th generation dairy farm to Mandan and expand to 600 milk cows.”
So how does a self-described “city-girl” with bachelor’s degree in Equine Industries Management fit into a dairy operation? Jennifer grew up in a North Dakota town of about 1,800 people where her father was a Lutheran minister. Most of her friends lived on farms where they raised beef cattle and row crops, so she had spent a great deal of her childhood on farms. Plus, she spent many weekends helping at the Holle family dairy throughout her college years.
“I started dating my husband early into our freshman year at University Of Minnesota-Crookston,” says Jennifer. “I knew from Day 1 that he was going to move back to his family’s generational dairy farm and farm with his father. Farming is in his blood, and it’s his ultimate dream in life. On the weekends, we would make the 5-hour drive back to his farm. I would spend the weekend helping Andrew. If he was cleaning barns, I would open the gates so he didn’t have to get out of the bobcat. If he was milking, I would help him milk or bring in the cows for him.”
When Andrew and Jennifer bought Northern Lights Dairy in 2003, she says she continued being his “helper.” Then she climbed up the ladder of responsibility to parts-runner. When they moved into the new facility, she started working in the milking parlor full-time because they were milking three times daily. She says she even kept milking full-time with a baby on her back.
“I did every job on the farm that you can imagine. I climbed the responsibility ladder before falling into my niche,” says Jennifer. “When the calf barn was experiencing death loss that was higher than we wanted to accept about 4 years ago, my husband basically asked me to manage the calf program. It’s a natural position for me because a baby is a baby whether it is a horse or a cow. And as a mom, I have a sixth sense for animals that are not feeling well or just need a little extra attention.”
Jennifer oversees all calves from newborn to breeding. In addition to serving as calf manager, Jennifer serves as office manager. She handles the farm’s daily paperwork, keeps daily records for cows and calves, plus handles employee training. The one duty that takes more time than Jennifer imagined is serving as the family dairy’s public relations specialist. She gives group tours, grants media interviews, writes blogs/articles, and plans their bi-annual “Breakfast on the Farm.” In addition, Jennifer still runs for parts or does whatever else is needed on any given day like sorting heifers.
“When I sit back and think about what I really love about living on a dairy farm, it’s the fact that I always dreamed of being a wife and a mom. Being a farmer allows me to work with my family, and I get to watch them grow and thrive every single day! My husband and I are basically inseparable, and I absolutely LOVE that! We all eat, sleep, work, play, breathe, and grow together side-by-side.”
She says, “We really believe in letting children experience life so from a very young age, so they have helped us do all aspects of the dairy.” From the time they were babies, they were bouncing on the floor of the tractor in their baby seats. They help vaccinate the cows, and they know how to move heifers safely. They help calves be born. They all have their stethoscopes on to help Andrew ‘ping’ a cow to evaluate a DA.” (A displaced abomasum is when one of the cow’s four stomachs twists. To diagnose it, you thump on the side of the cow. If you hear a “ping” through the stethoscope, then the stomach has twisted and surgery is needed to fix it.)
“There is no better place than a farm for kids to learn life’s lessons,” adds Jennifer. “They learn to value and respect life. They learn how to accept loss when a crop fails or their favorite dog dies. They learn to appreciate teamwork and to respect employees because we all depend on each other. They learn the circle of life and all its aspects. There is so much value in growing up on a farm that it is really hard to put it into words, but there is no place I would rather be than raising my family on the farm.”
“The blessings of living this life are so many that I have an extremely hard time putting them into words or even writing them down so that people can understand. How do you express how it feels the very first time you catch a calf as she’s being born? How do you put into words what it feels like to as you’re fighting to keep a sick animal alive for hours – and everything you do is futile because you see the life fade from its eyes? How do you talk about the overwhelming sense of pride you feel when watching your son learn to drive a tractor and a smile is beaming across his face? How can you explain the overwhelming heartbreak when so much snow accumulated on the barn roof during a blizzard that beams started breaking and one-fourth of your barn falls down?”
“This farm is not just job. This is our livelihood. This is our dream. This is our heart and soul poured into every aspect of it. It has our blood, our sweat, and many of our tears wrapped around our laughter, our cheers, and our immeasurable joy! To say that it is all worth it is a complete understatement… instead I will say, this is what I born to do.”
To be continued…
Be sure to check out Part II of this story Monday on TheFieldPosition.com!
In the meantime, check out this delicious dairy recipe from Northern Lights Dairy.
By Grace Johnson, Carol Severud, Christine Sanders, Eva Hudson, Dorothy Anderson, Virginia Widmer
1 c. sugar
½ c. flour
2 c. milk
2 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. salt
½ c. margarine or butter (softened)
Put all together and beat 3 to 4 minutes. (Blender can also be used). Pour into greased pie plate and sprinkle on a scant cup coconut. This optional – is nice with a little nutmeg on top, if you prefer – instead of coconut. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes.