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Wisconsin high school sophomore starts her own dairy

Progressive Dairyman Writer Michael Cox Published on 30 September 2015
Lauren Raskovic and Phil Crist

What makes Lauren Raskovic unique is: First, she is a 15-year-old girl starting her own dairy farm. Second, she is the daughter of a race car mechanic with no farming background.

“I grew up in New York,” explains Lauren’s father, Pete. “I spent my summers on my grandfather’s small dairy farm in Pennsylvania, but to me, Lauren is the ‘first generation’ of farmers in our family.”

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In 2004, the Raskovics moved from Pennsylvania to a 170-acre farm in New Glarus, Wisconsin.

Due to off-farm work commitments, Pete did not venture into farming until 2010, when he purchased 15 registered Jersey and Holstein calves to begin the family farm. “I started helping Dad with the calves, and from there I fell in love with farming,” Lauren says.

Since then, Lauren has been the driving force behind the herd’s expansion to 30 cows.

Challenges

For a high school sophomore, setting up a dairy farm is generally not “the done thing” and has provided many challenges along the way. “I guess our main problem at the beginning was that I didn’t actually know how to milk cows,” Lauren explains.

Fortunately, some of the established dairy farm neighbors were only too delighted to offer help to their new young farmer neighbor and show her the ropes.

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“We used to panic a lot about every small thing with the cows, too,” Lauren says, which led to the local vet almost setting up permanent residence on the farm. Over time, Lauren has gained confidence in animal health matters and can decide which issues can be treated “in-house” and which require the now rare emergency call.

This is certainly good news for her vet – and also for the dairy’s bottom line.

Business finance and debt can be worrying issues for many dairy farmers, but luckily for Lauren, her dad was on hand to provide long-term loans at rock-bottom interest rates.

“She is in charge of paying me back, though, and keeping an eye on feed expenses, but it’s great to learn at such a young age that you can’t have a negative cash flow and stay in business,” Pete says.

Learning

Lack of dairy experience has never deterred Lauren from pursuing her dream of being a dairy farmer. Her passion for cows and thirst for knowledge has led her to a work-shadowing arrangement with her vet; every month, she takes a day off school and shadows all the large-animal callouts and operations.

4-H and school livestock judging classes have also proved beneficial in helping her learn more about animal health, judging and animal handling.

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Expansion in any business takes careful consideration, and Raskovic’s forward planning has helped avoid some pitfalls along the way. Two years before the first cows were milked, Pete organized a meeting for Lauren with the local vet and nutritionist to discuss animal health and diets.

The success of this initial meeting has made it an annual event, helping to focus the direction of the herd expansion and continue improvements.

Improvements have certainly come thick and fast for Lauren’s farm. Existing farm buildings – which had been used to milk a Brown Swiss herd by the previous owners – were in need of major repair. The main tiestall barn has been re-roofed, the floor has been re-laid with concrete, a new barn cleaner has been installed, and repairs were made to paddock fencing.

Over the last five years, Lauren has slowly built up her herd of mainly Jersey cows, although she admits she is a Holstein girl at heart. Recent additions to the herd include five cows from the Jeffery-Way Holstein herd in Wisconsin – one of the top herds in the country.

However, the current apple of her eye is a heifer from upstate New York. “Her dam was an All-American, a Red and White,” boasts Lauren, who has plans to show the heifer at the World Dairy Expo this fall. Ultimately, she aims to grow the herd to 100 show cows with excellent genetics.

“Lauren has learned so much the past few years; it’s amazing,” Pete says. “But her big plans will have to wait until she’s completed her education.” Lauren has recently moved her cows to a nearby farm in Janesville, Wisconsin, owned by dairyman Gordy Barlass.

This will allow her to focus on her schoolwork while she continues to care for her heifers at her home farm. Barlass will tend to Lauren’s cows alongside his own dairy herd and act as another mentor for Lauren.

After high school, she hopes to attend the nearby Farm and Industry Short Course at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, with only one vision in mind post-graduation. “Dad will have to tend to the heifers while I’m at college, but after that I’ll be straight back to the farm.”  PD

PHOTO: To learn how to be a great dairy farmer, Lauren Raskovic (left) regularly meets with key advisers such as her herd’s nutritionist Phil Crist, feed specialist with Frontier-Servco FS (right). Photo by Karen Lee.

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