I recently met with one of our new online contributors, Karma Fitzgerald. You’ll get to know Karma a bit more later this year. She is the wife of an Idaho dairyman and will be contributing to the print magazine in our new column “HERd management” in the near future.

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Editor and Podcast Host / Progressive Dairy

Thanks to Karma for her focus group work with other women involved in the dairy industry to help us get the name of this new column just right. (If you missed its first run in the last issue, you missed a great one from Emily Zweber.)

Click here to read Emily's article from the March 21, 2012 issue and click here to read the current article by Ashley Messing in the April 11, 2012 issue.

I believe behind every successful dairyman is an equally remarkable woman. The women who will be writing for the column put their own personal touch on supervising employees, cattle and family. Their achievements and skill sets are unique.

We hope the dozen or so women whom you will get to know through their columns this year will portray the wide variety of notable contributions women in the dairy industry make every day. As usual, we welcome and appreciate your feedback about this new magazine content.


While sitting in my office, Karma recalled the advice she received from one of the editors who supervised her in her former newspaper career. He always instructed writers to find two new ideas for every story they went out to cover.

This issue contains one such story that was the product of following that advice. I think you will find it interesting, regardless of whether the topic interests you or not.

As has been well documented in previous issues, I spent some time in Bad Axe, Michigan, at the end of 2011 to film a video documentary about an ICE raid on Aquila Dairy, owned by John and Anja Verhaar. The documentary is now online and has been viewed by more than 7,600 people worldwide in just a number of weeks.

Thanks if you’re one of those who has taken 20 minutes to view it. And if you still haven’t seen it, take a look. It’s worth your time. Click here to view the video with John Verhaar.

While meeting with John, he took me to his son’s new robotic milking operation. Two of his sons who are just starting their own dairies say that after witnessing their father’s experience hiring milkers they have chosen to instead employ robots to milk.

During the course of our conversation, John spoke highly of a man who helped get things going in the days after the robots were installed. The reference to this man was fleeting, and our conversation moved on to discussing how the cows learned to remain calm in the robotic milking stall.

When I asked him to back up and explain the mystery man, he recalled the man’s name was Paul, but had to think of his surname. “Berdell,” he recalled after searching his memory for a few minutes.

Perhaps it was the way John and his son spoke of Paul’s mystifying effectiveness at helping during those first stressful days that intrigued me, but I asked our East Coast editor, Emily Caldwell, to find Paul Berdell. She too had heard reference of him and his services from a few of our Proud to Dairy social network members.

Paul consented to the interview and a day of shadowing after he found a suitable string of work days and a farm whose owners also consented to be featured in the magazine. Click here to read the results of Emily’s day-long visit with Paul and dairy producers Charles and Linda Leech of Lexington, Virginia.

And as for the other story idea, or more like ideas, I found in Michigan … well, to be continued. PD

  • Walt Cooley

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