“The only thing constant in life is change.”

This quote is attributed to an ancient Greek philosopher, and I can’t think of a better way to describe today’s dairy industry. Nearly every aspect of how we care for our cows, resources and people is changing and more quickly than ever.

This level of change can be overwhelming, making it more important than ever that we, as dairy producers and as an entire industry, take advantage of learning opportunities whenever they arise. After all, why wouldn’t we want to stay abreast of the changes that can make our jobs, businesses and communities stronger and healthier?

We’ve seen these changes firsthand at Soaring Eagle Dairy. I am a member of the fifth generation in our dairy farm family, but when I graduated from high school I didn’t see a role for myself in the 60-cow tiestall operation. So, I looked for opportunities outside of agriculture.

After 11 years, I was “blessed” with a job and boss I wasn’t happy with. As I explored other options, I took a second look at becoming part of the family dairy farm. After I left all those years prior, my sisters had come back to the farm to join my parents and the dairy had expanded to milking 600 cows. I could see how the quality of life changed and decided the timing was right. I began taking on human resources and office responsibilities at the dairy in 2003.


We’ve continued to make changes over the past 20 years, expanding to 1,350 cows onsite and establishing a custom calf-raising operation in Colorado for our heifers. My parents, Jim and Sandie Fitzgerald, are transitioning into retirement. My sisters, Kelly Goehring and Stacy Klotz, are herd managers, and my brother, Nick Fitzgerald, and brother-in-law, Jeremy Klotz, manage equipment and crops. And, we’re excited that members of the next generation are considering joining the farm. My daughter, Kelsey, has been employed at the dairy full time since graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2022, working with herd health and reproduction.

My parents did a really nice job of welcoming my generation to the farm, with four of their five children now partners and primary operators. We are starting to do some homework and talk about how to plan for the next generation. We recognize it will be more complex, with several families, more children and a diverse range of retirement ages for my generation, but we’re looking forward to putting some things in place that will welcome family members who are interested in coming back.

Just as we are constantly looking for new technologies and practices to improve our farm, we are also looking to continually learn and share those opportunities with our team members. In total, we have eight family members in addition to 18 employees working full time at Soaring Eagle Dairy. Since we all have our own specialty and focus areas, we’re always looking for programs that address the latest in animal science, crop science and new technologies, so each of us can stay relevant on the latest research and management practices.

Personally, I am interested in attending programs for leadership and self-discovery to be a better leader and work with our team more effectively.

The annual business conference presented by Professional Dairy Producers (PDP) is always at the top of our list to hear world-class speakers on topics that are important to our industry and our operation. With dozens of sessions, each of us can find something for our focus area, and it’s a great opportunity to connect with friends across the industry.

The business conference and other leadership programs have been – and will continue to be – important resources for Kelsey as she begins her dairy career. In high school, she attended Youth Leadership Derby and served as an intern with PDP and coordinated their mentor program. She is now in the process of completing the three-pillar Cornerstone Academy. She has also attended PDP’s Herdsperson Workshop and business conference sessions for hands-on training experiences that provide an extension to the science she learned in college and practical tools she can bring back to her role on the farm.

As the sixth generation at Soaring Eagle Dairy, Kelsey also brings a perspective of what it will take to continue the business into the future.

“Looking at the changes that have happened at our farm and the industry in the past 20 years, it is our responsibility to stay up to date with new technologies, practices and research to make sure that our cows are producing milk and business is sustainable well into the future,” she says.

As a farm and industry, we’re also changing how we interact with our neighbors and community members. Today, most people are generations removed from agriculture, and our farms look much different than they did 40, 50 and 60 years ago. That means we need to do a better job of communicating how innovations are helping us take better care of our cows and resources to produce high-quality, delicious and nutrient-rich dairy products.

I’ve had the honor of serving as president of the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center near Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where we’ve focused on creating interactive exhibits that share information about modern agriculture and dairy farming. With more than 10,000 square feet of educational exhibits and a birthing barn, it is truly an amazing place where people learn while they also have fun.

Soaring Eagle Dairy also had the opportunity to host an Agricultural Community Engagement (ACE) Twilight Meeting a few years ago. Organized by the Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Towns Association, Pheasants Forever and PDP, that annual event includes a farm tour, ice cream and open discussions with neighbors, community leaders, elected officials and other thought leaders about issues that are important to all of us.


Julie Maurer accepts the Dean Strauss Memorial Award alongside her daughter, Kelsey, in 2021. Photo courtesy of Professional Dairy Producers.

Julie Maurer is co-owner of Soaring Eagle Dairy with her parents, sisters and brother. She joined the family business in 2003 and is currently responsible for nutrient management, human resources and employee management, the milking parlor and the farm’s heifer program – the Heifer Authority – in Colorado. She serves on the board of directors for Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center and in numerous other leadership roles in dairy and community organizations. Maurer was the inaugural recipient of the Dean Strauss Memorial Award in 2021, given annually to a dairy professional who promotes the sustainable progress of the dairy industry and exemplifies servant leadership.

This column is contributed by Professional Dairy Producers (PDP), which is the nation’s largest dairy producer-led organization of its kind. PDP focuses on producer professionalism, stakeholder engagement and unified outreach to share ideas, solutions, resources and experiences that help dairy producers succeed.