Shane and Jennifer Sauer named WI Outstanding Young Farmers

Gloria Hafemeister
Correspondent
Winners of the Outstanding Young Farmer competition in Neenah last weekend are, from left,  runners  up Joe and Ashley Dudkiewicz of Crivitz, and Shane and Jennifer Sauer, Waterloo, winners of both the OYF competition and the “Speak up for Agriculture” award.

NEENAH – Shane and Jennifer Sauer, Waterloo, were named Wisconsin’s Outstanding Young Farmers Saturday during the annual 67th annual OYF weekend, held this year In Neenah.

Shane Sauer is the third generation to run his family’s dairy farm at Waterloo.

The Waterloo dairy farmer recalls spending many hours watching and admiring his grandfather for the many skills he had operating the farm. Sauer also remembers helping with the milking at a very young age.

Sauer credits those early years on the farm for developing his work ethic and for teaching him that there will be good days and bad days but that it was the career and lifestyle he wanted.

When Shane was 15 he started receiving a percentage of the milk check for his contributions to keeping the farm going. During that time he began looking for ways to take over the business.

In December, 2012, he and his wife, Jennifer, took ownership of his family’s farm and started Sauer Dairy LLC. Five years later they were faced with a crisis they never thought they would encounter. The Sauers were among the many producers in the area to lose their market for milk when there dairy processor contacted them with the news that they had just four weeks to find a new market for the farm's milk.

The couple began contacting numerous dairies and worked with Farm Bureau, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the USDA to find a solution to the problem. The Sauers also participated in numerous teleconferences including a roundtable discussion with US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Through this experience they realized the importance of being personally involved with their cooperative and other farm organizations.

Jennifer Sauer initially worked off the farm part time as an independent representative for the AI industry in addition to helping out on the farm. After COVID 19 hit they were faced with the children being schooled at home so Jennifer left her job and returned to the farm full time. Today she takes care of accounting, payroll, cow registration and daily animal records and health reports. She also assists with field work as needed.

The couple has two children: Cole, 11, who has a true passion for machinery and helping with preventive maintenance on equipment; Brooke, 8, who is active with raising the calves. 

The farm has 150 registered Holsteins and includes 650 tillable acres. 

The Sauers also perform soil sampling and implement a comprehensive nutrient management plan to sustain water quality while maintaining proper nutrition for the crops. Tiling, grass waterways and no-till practices have helped to protect the soil against erosion. They work closely with their agronomist and when permitted use a variety of cover crops in their crop rotation. In addition, the Sauers market manure to neighboring farms for fertilizer.

Cows are the emphasis on the Sauer farm. Shane uses technology to monitor the herd which helps to achieve reproductive results as well as aid in cow health and performance.   

Shane says his goal is to keep building on the genetics of the herd while producing quality milk. He emphasizes that the farm's breeding program focuses on health traits with an emphasis on type.

The cows on Sauer Dairy are raised in a freestall barn with sand bedding providing cow comfort. In 2016, the family built a freestall barn to help transition the dry cows to fresh cows. Since building Shane says they have seen an increase in milk production in the fresh animals upwards 100 pounds a day. The Sauers milk their cows twice a day.

The couple is active in Rolling Hills Dairy Producers Cooperative; Immanuel Deerfield Lutheran Church; Waterloo FFA Alumni; Watertown Agri-Business Club; Farm Bureau and Wisconsin Holstein Association. Their children are members of Portland Boosters 4-H. 

In the past they participated in Cows on the Concourse and mentored 4-H'ers for the local county fairs. Jennifer utilizes Facebook to help spread a positive message about the dairy industry and lets non-farmers know more about agriculture.

When COVID affected the markets for dairy products the Sauer family bought 5,000 one-pound bags of cheese curds from their cooperative and sold them throughout their area. They believe that effort played a role in preventing the dumping of milk during this period of the supply line crisis. As a family, the Sauers felt they were able to tell the farm story to the public and share their passion for farming. 

The family had been selected to host the Watertown Agri-Business Club’s annual two-day breakfast on the farm but due to COVID the event was cancelled. They look forward to hosting the event in 2021.

The Sauers also won the “Speak up for Agriculture” portion of the contest.

After the selected Jennifer said, “When we were nominated I was just overwhelmed.  This has been a real eye-opener. It’s amazing what all of you have done to speak up for agriculture and keep this (OYF) program going.”

Shane agreed, saying when he was growing up he was busy with day to day jobs on the farm and never even thought about a program like this.

Runners up

Runners up in the contest were Joe and Ashley Dudkiewicz of Crivitz. Both have a passion for agriculture and are following their dreams by raising beef and growing cash crops. The couple started out gradually by renting some farm land and hiring his dad to do custom harvesting and planting.

As the Dudkiewicz's built equity and acquired land they partnered with his dad by sharing equipment and then gradually replacing it with newer equipment on their own. 

Eventually Joe and Ashley took over ownership by purchasing the grain handling facility and shop from his dad and taking over some of his land leases.

More recently they began growing small grains and hay in addition to corn and soybeans with an eye toward diversification. They also sell bagged corn and small hay bales to local customers.

Ashley is a full partner in the business, managing the farm records, working with the beef cattle on pasture and getting involved in the direct marketing.

The couple has 3 children who enjoy helping with the daily farm chores.

Also competing in the event were Clint and Erin Hodorff, Eden; Michael and Jenny Jenson, Elk Mound; and Leslie and Scott Svacina, Deer Park.

The event was different this year in that the weekend event was not open to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions. Other parts of the awards weekend remained unchanged with networking opportunities among the candidates as well as the Ag Forum/Workshop. The group will also have “tours” from local businesses brought this year to the event.

Finalists for this year’s competition were sponsored to the state event by past OYF finalists, UW- Extension county agents, or other agricultural groups. Other sponsors contribute to the overall event as well.

The state OYF Awards Weekend event was hosted by Phil and Laura Finger, 2020 state winners. Emcees were Sam and Jenn Zimmerman, 2017 state winners. 

The 2021 OYF committee included: Phil and Laura Finger, Cindy and Harold Matton, Ken and Ann Reckelberg, Jenn and Sam Zimmerman, and Daphne Holterman.

Judges were: Kevin Coffeen, Investors Community Bank, Sara Maass-Pate, Fox Valley Technical College, and Brian Schaal, state (2011) and national (2012) OYF winner.

The OYF award is based on 50 percent progress in agriculture career, 25 percent on soil and water conservation and 25 percent contributions to community, state or nation. 

Goals of the OYF program are:

  • Foster better urban-rural relations through the understanding of farmers’ challenges, as well as the appreciation of their contributions and achievements;
  • Bring about a greater interest in farmers/ranchers;
  • Help build an urban awareness of the farmers’ importance and impact on America’s economy.