Small Towns: Brooks Farms in Waupaca a family affair

The June Dairy Month farm report continues
Published: Jun. 22, 2023 at 2:56 PM CDT
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WAUPACA, Wis. (WBAY) - Little Aidan Nelson is getting his introduction to life on a dairy farm, and if he’s like his mom Zoey, Grandpa Ron, and those before them, well, it’s a career he might not initially find that appealing.

“I did not want to be a farmer when I was growing up, I think any farm kid will tell you the same thing, you grow up and you are working on the weekends and waking up at 3 a.m. when all of your friends are out having fun and partying and you’re here working, but I owe I think my entire work ethic and character and who I am as a person to being a farm kid,” says Zoey.

“The last thing I wanted to be was a farmer, I knew the work, the hours, I went to school, the same career path as Zoey, I was going to be a large animal vet though, and kind of came to the conclusion that I would rather take care of my own healthy animals than everybody else’s sick ones,” adds Ron.

Founded by his great, great grandfather in 1855, Ron became the fifth generation on Brooks Farms in 1982, when the farm milked around 120 cows.

In 2015, after graduating from University of Wisconsin-Madison and serving a year as Alice in Dairyland, daughter Zoey joined the family farm.

“I was immersed a lot more in the dairy culture at Madison and all the courses that I was taking there and the people as well I was meeting throughout the state that were farm kids as well, and I really realized the opportunity that I had back home was so unique and not everyone has that,” says Zoey.

With Zoey on board, the family decided it was time to expand the herd, which is now 700.

They also made major upgrades, with new free-stall barns and a milking parlor, which they designed.

“And people ask us how do you design something like this and all I can tell them is I got 50 years of what I know doesn’t work, so will all of this work, some of its cutting edge, some is brand new, we try a lot of new things, but if you get 51-percent of it right you’re considered a genius,” says Ron with a laugh.

On the farm, Zoey oversees all the cows, while Ron is in charge of the crops.

Both admit there are challenges sometimes, but the lifestyle is gratifying.

“No one day is the same, it keeps you on your toes, but I think it’s such a fun career because no day is the same and you actually see the fruits of your labor, what you put into it, what you get out of it, is a very rewarding career,” says Zoey.

Which is why Zoey is proud to serve as a role model for other young women.

“There is room for everybody in this industry. It’s not like it was 50 years ago. I always use the example of manual labor, I’m never going to be as strong as my male counterparts or as beefy and burly as them, I have to learn how to work smarter, not harder in a lot of situations. But the industry has evolved and innovated so much that it really has diversified the option for many people to be able to get into it,” explains Zoey.

With ten grandkids, Ron is hopeful the seventh generation on Brooks Farms is waiting in the wings, but there will never be any pressure.

“Nobody is going to hold a gun to your head and tell you that you have to be a farmer, nobody did for her, nobody did for me, nobody did for my father, my father went to college, and he wasn’t going to be a farmer,” says Ron.

In other words, time will tell, but the odds are looking pretty good.

“I am the luckiest dairy farmer, if not in the state, possibly the nation, all my grandkids live within a five-mile radius of the farm, my grandkids are all here all the time, which is really, that’s as good as it gets,” says Ron with a smile.

And one of the reasons the farm continues to build such a special legacy.

“I get to work with my grandpa, my dad and my son is here with me on the farm almost every day, so there are four generations here that are working alongside each other and those are memories I’ll cherish forever because not everyone has that,” says Zoey.