STRATFORD, Wis. – The cost of childcare was one of the main reasons Jennifer Kauffman pulled the trigger in 2011 to begin her dairy-farming career.
Kauffman was employed as a surgical assistant. But in 2001 she and her husband, Kip Kauffman, purchased an 80-acre farm near Stratford. She operates the 60-cow Leap of Faith Farm by herself with the help of her daughters Sydney, 16, Sadie, 14, and Sailor, 13. Her husband works out of Milwaukee; he’s able to help on the farm on weekends. Custom operators do the forage harvesting; silage is purchased off the field in the fall.
After purchasing their farm the Kauffmans rented out the land. They slowly began turning it into an operating grass-based dairy farm. At the time Jennifer Kauffman was milking one cow for the family’s personal needs.
“Cows multiply,” Kauffman said with a laugh. “Before you know it I was up to seven head.”
She found herself caring for the growing herd before and after 12-hour shifts in the emergency room. So in 2011 the Kauffmans began their dream of operating a small dairy. They started the full-time operation with a herd of 35 Jersey cows.
The Kauffman setup is simple and efficient. The cows are milked in a six-unit parlor with indexing and a rapid-exit gate. The herd consists primarily of Jerseys with a scattering of other crossbred cattle as well as a Brown Swiss that Sailor shows. The cows are housed on a bedded pack in an open-sided structure adjacent to the parlor. Kauffman beds the pack with sawdust every other day during the non-growing season.
Like other grass-based farmers in Wisconsin, Kauffman said she’s frustrated with the lack of growing-degree days this spring. Cold wet weather has delayed turn-out. She’s on the cusp of beginning her rotations. But the recent pasture walk she hosted was another walk organized by the Central Wisconsin River Graziers network that saw no cattle actively grazing.
Bill Kolodziej leads the Central Wisconsin River Graziers as an employee of the Marathon County Conservation, Planning and Zoning Department. He’s passionate about putting land into permanent cover as managed pasture. He organized this season’s pasture walks with the theme of farmers learning from farmers.
When to turn livestock onto spring’s new growth is one of a grazier’s biggest challenges. The topic of the walk on the Kauffman farm was transitioning dairy cows from stored feed to pasture. Attendees were able to hear how several experienced graziers introduced their cows to pasture and weaned them from stored feed. The operators ranged from large grass-based farms with robotic milkers to smaller herds with less than 50 cows.
The Kauffman paddock layout and lane system were walked and discussed. The pastures are dominated by quack grass and mixed clovers, with a small amount of meadow fescue. Establishing the pastures was done under Kolodziej’s tutelage, with the cooperation of the farmer who rented the Kauffman land.
A well-crowned lane with granite screenings on the surface makes accessing the paddocks convenient for the cattle. Kauffman makes use of a polyvinyl-chloride post – PVC – that allows her to raise the lane wire along the paddocks. That allows the herd to enter the appropriate paddock. The practice eliminates gates as well as the continual use of one spot where cattle enter and exit a paddock.
For the first two years after the cattle were purchased, Kolodziej visited Kauffman every other week to be sure she wasn’t overgrazing or under-grazing.
“Those biweekly visits were worth the effort,” Kauffman said.
She eventually developed the eye to assess the paddocks on her farm; it’s an important part of her routine. She moves her Jersey herd every day during the grazing season, completing a 21- day rotation about five times a year.
She said it’s a challenge balancing the farm with her daughters’ activities. They’re involved with sports and 4-H; Kauffman can’t always go to their events. The younger women are expected to help with chores when they’re home, but sometimes Jennifer Kauffman does the work alone. She said she’s willing to do that rather than have them miss participating.
Kauffman talked about the career change that led to pursuing the dream of farm ownership. She said she’s not working any less as a dairy farmer compared to as a surgical assistant, but the work is at home. And that, she said, is a big benefit.