NEWTON, Wis. — Just like the crops they grow, so has the appreciation and respect the Fitzgerald sisters have for one another.
Now grown and married, Stacy Klotz, 31; Kelly Goehring, 42; and Julie Maurer, 43,work together in partnership with their parents — Jim and Sandie Fitzgerald — to run Soaring Eagle Dairy in Newton.
"Ever since we were little kids, we all pitched in," Klotz said. Whether it was milking cows or picking up another chore, the sisters were kept busy on the farm, which has changed over the years. Their paternal grandfather, John, who began by milking eight cows by hand when he was 18, later started the farm with his son, Jim. The farm is now home to 1,150 cows.
As they graduated from high school, Goehring, Klotz, and earlier their father, took the 16-week Farm and Industry Short Course program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison following high school. Goehring was the first daughter to join the family farm as a partner in 1997. Klotz and Maurer followed in 2005.
"I've always enjoyed working on the farm, taking care of the cows," said Klotz who was involved with FFA growing up, along with Goehring. All the sisters were into 4-H and showing cattle at the fair.
Goehring's connection to the farm never wavered, she said.
"I always liked the farm," she noted. "I always say cows don't talk back. They kick, but they don't talk back. ... I've never left the farm."
Maurer, on the other hand, found herself looking beyond the hay bales for a different career path. She spent 11 years as an accountant before returning to her roots.
"I had absolutely no desire to farm when I left high school," Maurer confessed. "I was always told that if I ever left there would always be a place to come back to."
Every two to three weeks, there's a partner meeting to discuss farm business. There are two other siblings — Nick Fitzgerald who has worked steadily on farm for a year and Tammy Madson — who aren't currently partners. The current partners have decided that a two-year commitment to working on the farm is necessary before attaining partnership.
The farm has grown into1,000 milking cows. Milkings happen daily at 2 a.m., 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
"We all have things that we're responsible for, but they blend into each other," Maurer said.
Goehring and Klotz deal mainly with breeding, calving and sick cows, while Maurer fills in as needed, but coordinates employees, the parlor, supplies, Department of Natural Resources reports, land conservation and contracts.
They all chip in on tasks like picking rocks.
"When you're done, it's the best feeling in the world," Maurer said with a sigh. She enjoys being a part of the farm's operations.
"Every decision you make, you are the beneficiary or not of that decision," she said. "Your end product is so rewarding." Working outside with the animals and being a part of food production are "pluses" to Maurer.
"Every day is something different," Goehring said. "One day you come in and you're treating a cow and working with the vet, and the next crops."
Klotz enjoys "not sitting in an office all day."