By Debby Stricker
Sarah Heggemeier is a rarity among dairy farmers. The rural Oakdale woman is one of the few female dairy owner/operators in the state. While other women help with milking, own, and/or manage dairy farms, few, like Sarah, do it all.
Heggemeier’s dairy herd is small, milking 40-45 cows, in an era when large farms have herds numbering in the hundreds. “I am almost non existent,” she said.
The milk production of her red and white herd is 60-80 pounds per cow per day. While that pales in comparison to cows bred for high yields, Heggemeier is pleased with the production. “My cows don’t wear out in a few years,” she said. The average age of her herd is now 8, the youngest average she has ever had.
The fourth-generation dairy farmer continues to own and operate the business started by her great grandfather Christ Frederking, and then continued by her grandfather, Oscar Frederking, and father, Wilfred Frederking.
“It’s all I have ever known,” said the 52 year old. “I have fed calves and milked cows since I was a little girl. I have never had another job off the farm.”
The petite 5’2”, 110 pound Heggmeier is a natural working with the 1,000 pound cows she calls by name. After getting kicked too many times, she ties up the legs of the kickers before they are milked.
Heggemeier said that she likes the independence of working for herself. “I don’t have to take orders from anyone. I only have to answer to God and myself,” she said.
Heggemeier’s challenge is finding and keeping a reliable, competent employee. Since her last one left eight months ago, she is doing it all nearly by herself: the milking, cleaning, feeding.
Her father, 87, despite his blindness, helps by washing the buckets. He walks the few steps from the house to the milking parlor. After he washes the buckets and fills them with water, he feels his way to the railing to go down a few steps to the floor of the parlor.
Read the full story in this week’s issue