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NEOSHO – Are dairy products worth promoting?

Volunteers working with the Dodge County Dairy Promotion committee think so.  So does Brenda Conley, a Neosho dairy farmer who serves as Dodge County’s Dairy Ambassador.

In that position she goes to area schools to talk about dairy and prepare fourth grade students for what they will see when they take part in Farm City day tours each May on a local dairy farm.

She does programs at area libraries in summer and plans to expand that effort his year.  She is also is available to speak at organizations.

“My presentation is free so if anyone wants to learn more about the dairy industry and dairy products just contact me and I’ll come to your meeting or event,” she says.

Besides her personal knowledge of the dairy industry she gets additional training twice a year at workshops sponsored by the state dairy promotion board, financed by farmers who spend 15 cents for each hundred pounds of milk produced for dairy promotion and research.

With the dairy crisis and low milk prices for the last few years she has added one more thing to her effort this year.

She says, “People may hear that the dairy industry has been struggling during the last year.  Wisconsin has lost over 600 dairy farms in 2018 and more are going to be gone this year again due to the extremely low prices. That’s why this year I asked my fourth grade school program classes and Dodge County 4-H clubs if they would like to participate in an initiative to tell the remaining dairy farmers ‘Thank You’ and give them words of encouragement during this depressing time.”

Her program is modeled after Culver’s campaign earlier this year.  Known as #ThankaFarmer, Culvers gave away over 800 free gift card packs to farmers all over the Midwest.

In Dodge County, clubs that participated contacted Conley for addresses of dairy farmers in their area (for confidentiality purposes she withholds the names). 

Juneau dairy farmers Bob and Karen Schwandt received some letters from Dodgeland students.  They were surprised, but happy, to read the simple thank you message and comments about how much the children appreciate dairy farmers who make it possible for them to enjoy milk, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products.

Other farmers received the letters and posted them on the bulletin board in their farm office for all the farm employees to see and know that they, too, are appreciated.

Brenda says, “This is a voluntary program but a very heartfelt way to just simply say thank you to our hardworking dairy farmers in the area.”

Brenda knows how much that means because she and her husband Chris are among those dairy farmers who have felt the financial crunch in the last few years.

Brenda did not grow up on a dairy farm.  Her family lived in Neosho but in Hartford High School she joined the FFA and her interest in dairy began to grow.

Upon graduation from high school she attended Milwaukee Area Tech College where she earned an Associate’s Degree in Landscape Design. She worked as a landscape designer for Watertown Evergreen Services for 4 years. Then in 2005 she married Chris who she met in FFA in high school and she eventually joined the family farm full time.

For a short time she also worked at the Dairy Herd Testing Association and she served on the board for nine years and as DHIA president for five of those years.

Chris got the farming bug early in life. When Chris was a second grader his parents, Gene & Tina Conley, gave Chris a heifer calf to be his own. That calf was the start of building Chris’s herd to the present day. Chris started working the farm full time in 1999.

After graduation he went into a 50-50 partnership with his grandparents, Paul and Rita Sigrist. Since then Paul has passed but Rita remains living on the farm and is very active with its operation. Chris’ parents, Gene & Tina Conley, help out on the farm by filling in when needed.

Chris & Brenda have two daughters. Mckayla, 11 years old, and Paige, 9 years old. Both girls are very active in their farm life and love all the animals that surround them. They showed calves in the Little Britches contest when they were younger but now are active in other projects in 4-H.

Presently the farm covers 174 acres. The primary crops grown are corn, hay and sorghum. They milk 52 cows in a stall barn. Their herd is a mix of registered Holsteins and Normande. 

“Times are tough but we are making do,” Brenda says. “We thought about building a parlor to make milking a little easier but we just aren’t sure if it’s worth making that investment because we don’t know if there will be a next generation taking over the farm.”

That is one of the reasons the couple got into raising some Normande along with the Holsteins.

Normande are more dual purpose animals, excellent for meat and also for milk production.

They would like to begin direct marketing their Normande beef from farm to consumer for added income. When they come to the end of their dairy careers they will be able to make the easy transition to Normande beef.  

Brenda says. “We will be hosting the state Normande field day July 20 so anyone wanting to learn more about this breed can come to check it out.”

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