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Iowa heifer grower has a mission to help others

Jennifer Ray Published on 20 November 2013

Vickie Franken is committed to the dairy industry, not only to the 14,000 heifers her family raises but also to her fellow producers.

Franken has been an industry leader by serving as a director in organizations, starting new traditions and setting an example by continually improving her business. Franken’s focus has always been helping others.

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“Our goal is to continue to be the best we can be. It’s a personal mission of my family to be ‘Kingdom Builders.’ We asked the Lord a long time ago that, in our business, we could help to develop people and help them to be the best they can be,” Franken says.

The success of Franken’s heifer ranch is a testament to her faith and drive. She grew up on her parents’ dairy, City View Farms, near Sioux Center, Iowa. Franken and her husband, Ken, brother and sister-in-law assumed management of the family dairy in the late ’80s, following her father’s stroke.

Within the first few years, the milking barn caught fire, and they could not afford to build a new one. Instead of abandoning their tradition and passion for dairying, the family began raising heifers.

From the ashes, Vickie and her family built a successful contract heifer operation. Franken’s sons, Jody and Jamie, along with Kevin Vonk, co-manage the business, which consists of two facilities: City View East and City View West. The facilities are about 40 miles apart, and combined, they raise 10,000 to 14,000 head of cattle with 12 employees.

“I’ve spent most of my life either in the barn helping or being involved in the dairy industry,” Franken says. She is still involved in the daily farm management but has learned to delegate tasks so she can spend time doing all the things she loves.

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“We have 13 grandchildren, and those grandkids are very precious to me. We learn to prioritize and make sure we have enough time to be able to do all the things we want to do,” Franken says.

One of the things Franken makes time for is the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) because she believes it is important for producers, allied industry and academia to help one another. Ken and Vickie Franken attended the first annual conference in 1997 in Atlanta, Georgia, and have been involved ever since.

“We learned quickly that networking with other dairy producers helped us realize what we were going to be dealing with in the future.

As an example, when we started, environmental issues really weren’t something we gave much consideration to in Iowa, but we learned about these issues from other folks, specifically in Washington and California. Learning from them really helped us to form our decisions for the future.

“One of the greatest benefits, right along with the networking, is getting a really good education, focusing on how we can continually raise the bar in our own operations and how we can educate others.

It’s the opportunity to work closely with allied industry and realizing allied industry and academia all work hand-in-hand. We all have the same goal and it forms a really strong partnership when we work together,” Franken says.

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Franken’s passion for DCHA’s mission and her desire to learn led her to serve on the board of directors.

“Several years ago, there were some things that came up that I wanted to learn more about, so I just started to ask a few questions.

I was asked if I would be willing to serve on the board, which was really a wonderful learning experience for me. Then, I stepped down for several years to let others serve, and just this past year, I was asked to serve again,” Franken says.

Franken is currently the treasurer of the DCHA and the chairman of the 2014 annual conference to be held April 1-3 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Franken has a vision for the event and for the future of the DCHA.

She hopes to offer more deliberate networking opportunities. One of the elements Franken will bring back to the annual conference is walking tours of dairy and heifer ranches.

“Sometimes you can go on a facility not having a clue, and you might see something, a take-home lesson you never anticipated. You see something that somebody is doing and say, ‘Wow, I wish we had thought of that’ or ‘This is something we could really benefit from on our farm,’” Franken says.

The DCHA is not the only organization Franken has shared her time and experience with. Vickie and Ken are both very involved in their church leadership and have helped establish the Western Iowa Dairy Alliance (WIDA).

“My husband and I got very involved in WIDA, which is an organization that formed shortly before I came off the DCHA board the first time. I was really involved in that for about five years. I just resigned from that board this spring. They’re making a huge difference in this area. We’re still members of the organization and will continue to be.”

Franken’s experience on both the WIDA and DCHA boards has given her an even broader spectrum of the dairy industry. She has used both her wide range of experience and her faith to bring people together.

“We were invited to the ag prayer breakfast at the World Ag Expo and it became a highlight of ours for several years. While I was on the WIDA board, we were discussing ways to grow partnerships and to make a difference. I shared with them my experience with the prayer breakfast in California,” she says.

Four years ago, the Western Iowa Dairy Alliance and the Central Plains Dairy Expo co-sponsored a prayer breakfast at the Central Plains Dairy Expo.

“That prayer breakfast gets bigger every year. People from all over love to attend. My husband and I serve on the planning group for that, and it’s just been such a blessing,” Franken says.

Franken believes collaboration is critical to the success of the dairy industry. Another key is “being open to thinking outside the box.” Franken’s ability to bring people together and her commitment to adopting new ideas and improving practices are what make her a leader and inspiration.

“People help people to grow. It’s not only the lessons we learn from networking and discussing the animal welfare and environmental issues, but also the human resources. There are so many things we can learn from each other and ways to help the industry to get better,” says Franken. PD

Jennifer Ray served as the 2013 intern for Filament Marketing.

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