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Feed mixer mom

Progressive Dairy Editorial Intern Courtney Moser Published on 06 November 2019
Renee Clark operates machinery.

Balancing hours spent working on a dairy farm with family time can prove to be quite a challenge for many in our industry. With countless farm tasks that need to be completed each day, it can be difficult to set aside time to focus solely on family.

For young wife and mother-of-three Renee Clark, the balance has been achieved. She dedicates her mornings to mixing feed for cattle on her family’s operation, Kieler Farms, and the remainder of each day to spending time with her husband, Matt; and their three daughters, Kendra (6), Addison (4) and Savannah (2).

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Alongside of Matt and Renee Clark, there are seven additional family members who own and operate Kieler Farms in Platteville, Wisconsin: Renee’s parents, Louie and Ann Kieler; her aunt and uncle, Jackie and George Kieler; her oldest brother and his wife, Eric and Leah Kieler; and her cousin, Daniel Kieler. Each of the nine owners cover niche areas within their dairy, beef and forage operation, but they collaborate to make final decisions.

For the past eight years, Renee’s specialty and primary focus has been on mixing feed for the dairy cows and heifers at Kieler Farms.

Consistency in feeding

Prior to Clark’s return to her family farm, the feed mixing responsibilities were rotated between various people. After she graduated from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, Clark became the permanent and full-time feed mixer. “It’s a job that is really nice to have the same person do every day,” Clark says. She has since come to enjoy the consistency of her role, saying, “I really love it; I love the therapeutic-ness of the routine and knowing that what I’m doing to feed the cows is one of the most important things for their milk production.”

Previous to growing the dairy herd at Kieler Farms, it was solely Clark mixing feed for their 400 milking cows. In January of 2018, that number expanded to 1,800 cows being milked in a 50-stall rotary parlor. With the addition of animals came the additional need for help. Since then, Renee’s father-in-law, Royce Clark, has been assisting her daily with feed preparations.

A typical day for Renee

Renee’s day begins with arriving in the barn each morning by 3:45. Together with Royce, she makes two pre-mixes, which she says has helped cut down on shrink. “We have two single-screw mixers that my father-in-law switches between,” Renee says. “I am in the loader, and I am continuously loading feed into them.”

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Both TMR pre-mixes include cottonseed, soybean meal and high-moisture corn. A protein mix is also added, with one version being more beneficial for lower-production cows. Most loads also have corn silage, hay silage and wet gluten. Clark says these are for the main milking groups, but there are special mixes for pre- and post-fresh cows, some of which have special mineral mixes, straw and oatlage. These all combine to be what Clark refers to as the staple ingredients in their TMR.

From the first scoop to the last, Clark says the feeding process takes about three-and-a-half hours. Adding in time for preparations and checking the refusal amounts that need to be cleaned, the total process usually takes four-and-a-half hours for the duo to complete.

Beyond the feeding process, Clark helps with other projects that need to be finished, but she ultimately tries to complete her farm work in the morning. “I feed at that ridiculous time of day because that way, on the weekends when there’s no day care, I can still feed [the cattle] and be home between 8 and 9 in the morning for my husband to get outside onto the farm,” Clark says.

If her schedule allows following mixing and feeding, Clark enjoys a run before kicking into full mom mode for the afternoon and evening. Other times, she finds herself assisting with chopping hay and corn, fixing equipment or helping with various projects that need to be completed. Clark says finding balance between farm chores and her responsibility as a mother is important.

Changing plans

Farm chores were not part of Clark’s plans following high school. While she was grateful to grow up on her family’s farm, she had no intention to return. “I was the teenage girl that wanted to get away,” Clark says. She moved five hours north and admits, “When I left, I was never coming back to Platteville or a farm.”

Along the way, plans changed for Renee. While home on a break from college, she found herself milking alongside of a young man named Matt Clark who was attending the University of Wisconsin – Platteville and working on Kieler Farms. Eventually, the couple found themselves back on the farm in Platteville after living and working in the La Crosse, Wisconsin, area.

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It was in Renee’s first job at a senior living facility that she realized she and Matt should return to Platteville. She was speaking to the residents about her family’s farm during June Dairy Month when she thought to herself, “Why am I not on the farm full time?” While her previous plans did not include moving back and farming, Renee says, “I’m pretty glad I did.” Together, she and Matt have found their passion for agriculture.

Owners of Kieler Farms and, Eric and Leah’s children.

Balancing farm chores with family life

With three young girls, Renee shares that the key to balancing time spent doing chores in the barn with time dedicated to her family is flexibility. “Motherhood and farming are both things that require you to be adaptable and OK with a change in the schedule,” Renee says. “But one thing that does help is the consistency of feeding early every morning.” She credits her husband and other family members on the farm with helping her to balance both aspects of life.

“I feel like one reason it’s easy for me to be successful as a woman in agriculture is the dynamic on our farm,” Clark says. About 40% of the 28 employees and nine owners are female. “There’s a very high respect for women on our farm and encouragement to be successful.”

Perhaps it took Renee leaving the farm for her to realize her passion for agriculture, which ultimately brought her back full circle to successfully balancing her roles as feed mixer, wife and mother.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Renee Clark operates machinery as a feed mixer mom.

PHOTO 2: Owners of Kieler Farms and, Eric and Leah’s children. Photos provided by Renee Clark of Kieler Farms.

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