Personally, professionally, or both, everyone has likely felt like they were spinning their wheels at one point or another in their life. You may be moving, but you’re not moving forward, and you may even be getting yourself more stuck.

What is needed to get out of that rut — in the mud or in life — is traction. In our lives, traction comes in the form of core values, focus, and goals that give us something to hold onto to get back on track. During a Young Cooperators workshop put on by the National Milk Producers Federation at World Dairy Expo, three young farmers talked about what traction looks like for them in their family businesses.

Laura Raatz farms with her parents, brother, and husband in Oconto Falls, Wis., and described that they strive to follow core values of thankfulness, having fun, cleanliness, integrity, honesty, and dedication. Those last three are critical in how they develop their business’ culture for their employees, family, and supporters.

Investing in their people was the top area of focus that Raatz shared they aim to follow every day. One way they accomplish this is by setting aside time for monthly meetings with each of their farm team members. This encourages accountability and also opens up a regular channel of communication for continuing improvement. “If they’re not doing their job properly, it’s our fault because we didn’t train them to their ability,” she explained.

Prioritizing their people is also top of mind for Grass Ridge Dairy in Pittsville, Wis. “We’ve always been cow people,” said Paul Lippert. “Now we’re focusing on being people people.”

Building a strong culture is part of that, and Lippert and his family want their culture to be one of quality animal care, being nimble, and having a balance between work and the rest of their life.

Like many dairies, other values that keep them focused are sustaining a profit and making the most out of every acre of land. “Focus on your bottleneck,” was Lippert’s advice to dairy farmers striving to reach the same goals. Their farm aims to prioritize doing things well before doing more by expanding.

Nathan Wiese echoed those comments. Being profitable, producing high-quality milk, and continuously improving were all points of focus the West Rosendale, Wis., dairy farmer pointed to for his family’s 220-cow dairy.

Having a strong relationship with his community is also important. Wiese described they want to be a farm and family that respects others on and off the farm and is respected by the community. Selling local beef is one way they connect with their neighbors in a positive way directly from the farm.

Though these three young farmers differ in how they dairy, what they have in common is an eye on the bigger picture. It is not always easy to keep values in mind when the day’s tasks have to get done, but they also provide something to keep moving toward when issues cause you to stagnate. Choose some that stand out to you to provide that foundation. It’s easy to compare yourself to other farms, but Raatz’s final piece of advice was to recognize what works for your farm and family.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023

October 19, 2023

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