What started as a small event at a restaurant in Northern Wisconsin has grown from 15 participants to more than 150. The Vita Plus Chick Day is an event for women to gather, see another dairy operation and learn from speakers and one another. This year it was held Aug. 20 at Ocooch Dairy near Hillsboro, Wisconsin.
Named for the Ocooch mountains, the dairy was started in 1978 with the purchase of 40 registered Holsteins and 120 acres of land in the unglaciated area of west central Wisconsin. Currently Dr. Jim Mlsna and his family milk 585 cows three times daily, and they own and rent 1,700 acres of cropland, woodland and pasture.
As participants arrived from the Midwest, they were treated to a garden tour to view the perennials and blooming flowers that the Mlsna family has around its home.
Lunch was served on the farm, and the group was welcomed by Mlsna, a 35-year veterinarian and dairy producer who stated, “Our country needs you. We need the values that farm women give. You’ve got the work ethic. You’ve got the family and the love of what you are doing.”
He went on to explain how his children and even their children are involved on the farm, with one son recently deployed as a marine to Afghanistan.
Lunch was followed by three breakout sessions – employee motivation, a farm tour and a farmer’s story.
During “Big Employee Motivation with a Little Milk Check,” Kelli Mitchell, Hillprairie Dairy LLC, and Bob Hagenow, Vita Plus, shared tips and tricks for motivating employees without dipping into the pocket book. Mitchell works with 21 employees at the farm owned in partnership between her husband and his brother. Even though her office for bookwork is at her house, she is sure to visit the farm during each of the three shifts to talk with the employees and see if they are happy with what they are doing.
“They are really my extended family,” she said, mentioning she will ask them how their families and children are doing. Mitchell has helped some of the employees enroll their children in early school programs and when one had a child with leukemia she helped get them in touch with charitable organizations that could help them. “Money isn’t always the motivator,” she adds.
She continued explaining how she handles hiring, offering health insurance, using a language consultant and giving Christmas bonuses, all with a tight economy.
Mlsna and his son and daughter led the farm tours. Peter is the “chairman of the feeding department” and Jacqui works with the fresh and sick cows. The dairy added a new milking parlor two years ago after walking cows down a 300-yard lane to a flat barn parlor for many years. The old parlor was retrofit into a new freestall barn for special needs cows.
In “Kids, Cows and Creating Books: One Farmer’s Story,” Cris Peterson, Four Cubs Farm and children’s books author shared how she went from city girl to dairy farmer to author. She also discussed how you can learn anything from a book and listed her top seven books to read.
From the farm, the group travel to a nearby restaurant for dinner and heard from Ron Hanson, a professor at the University of Nebraska that has counseled with farm families for more than 30 years to help them resolve family conflicts in a more positive manner and to improve family relations through better communications.
As part of the Chick Day tradition of helping others, Vita Plus asked all participants to bring a box of their favorite nutritious cereal to Chick Day. All of the cereal was donated to the Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin to be used at the Hillsboro location, which serves 200 families. PD
Top Right: The group of 150 women were pictured with the Mlsna family before boarding buses for dinner.
Top Left: Jacqui led the women through a garden tour.
Bottom Right: Attendees saw how the Mlsna family retrofitted their old flat barn parlor into a special needs parlor.
Bottom Left: Cereal was gathered for the local foodbank.
- Midwest Editor
- Email Karen Lee