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Caps & Gowns: CVTC grad latest among siblings to put education to work on family farm

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    Tess Fagerland, who will graduate Friday with an associate degree in animal science management from Chippewa Valley Technical College, works at her family’s farm, German Valley Heifers. Her siblings, Savannah and Harley, also graduated in recent years from CVTC and work on the farm.

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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Tess Fagerland’s father, Kyle, urged her to go to college, get away from the family farm, enjoy being young and explore potential careers.

“My dad wanted us to go to make sure it’s what we wanted to do,” she said.

Her sister and brother took a similar journey to Chippewa Valley Technical College and came to the same conclusion — they wanted to take on the family business, German Valley Heifers in the Pepin County town of Albany.

“Definitely after school, I knew this was what I wanted to do,” Tess said.

She will graduate Friday with an associate degree from CVTC, just as her sister Savannah and brother Harley did in 2017 and 2015, respectively.

• • •

The three siblings work together on the family farm, which has a niche in the area’s ag industry of raising heifers for dairies before they are ready to produce milk.

“The best way to describe it is day care, but they don’t go home at night,” Savannah said.

Seven large dairies send female calves that are about 4 months old to the Fagerlands, who care for them, feed them, tend to their medical needs, have them inseminated and then give them back to their owners when they are about three-quarters along in their pregnancy.

German Valley Heifers raises them at an age when the Holsteins aren’t making money for farmers, so it makes financial sense for them to send them elsewhere so they don’t use up the dairy’s own food supply, Tess explained.

The three siblings complement each other with their specialties on the farm.

Harley tends to the farm’s machinery and the 2,100 acres of crops — primarily the corn and alfalfa that the cows munch all day long — planted within 12 miles of the barns.

“My job is to make sure these girls got stuff to eat,” he said.

Savannah stays in the barns to check the health of the many heifers entrusted to their care. Barn work includes bedding stalls, vaccinating, sorting the cows and bathing their hooves to prevent warts.

And Tess is the link between her brother and sister — spending some time in the barn and fields.

“I love both,” she said.

Her sister said Tess’ comfort with many aspects of farming comes in handy.

“We really work well that way,” Savannah said. “She’ll jump in a tractor or in a pen.”

• • •

Their father, Kyle, originally bought the property for use as hunting land in 1994 but decided in the late ‘90s to take up farming, which he’d learned from working on his father’s farm.

Pretty much from when they could walk, the kids took an interest in helping out around the farm.

“We’ve been around it our whole lives,” Harley said.

Kyle, whose primary occupation was as a construction manager, saw the farming business become successful.

“It continued to get bigger and bigger and bigger,” Harley said.

Through a series of additions, the farm’s older barn is about 1,000 feet long. Atop a hill is their 2-year-old barn built 312 feet long, but they plan to double its size this summer to meet demand.

Even with hundreds of heifers — knowing the exact number at any one time is difficult to track as older heifers are shipped out and replaced with younger ones — the operation is run by the three siblings, their parents and a full-time employee.

• • •

Adam Zwiefelhofer, CVTC’s animal science management program director, is a fairly new instructor at the college and has seen siblings go through classes before, but the Fagerlands are the first full generation of a family he has taught.

Their time growing up on a farm definitely showed in class, and they were able to help other students.

“They came with a different set of experiences and skills than the majority of students that come to CVTC these days,” Zwiefelhofer said.

While the Fagerlands did know a lot about heifers, Zwiefelhofer said lessons on dairy farm operations taught them about what their clients experience after getting their cattle back.

The siblings said they’re often asked if they were led into the family business, but Tess said their father encouraged them to go to college, get away from the farm, enjoy being young and explore potential careers.

Her education included an internship with an animal nutritionist, which involved traveling around the state and learning about feed. It was a good experience both for learning and networking with others in the ag field, but it also made her realize she preferred life on the family farm than spending it on the road.

Harley also said that while about 70 percent of his coursework at CVTC was familiar to him from his time on the family farm, there were some crucial lessons in later courses, including how to handle the business side of agriculture, that were new to him.

“It definitely broadened my horizons,” he said.

CVTC made changes this year to its agriculture program as the field has become more specialized. In August, the college essentially divided its agriscience technician program — creating separate degree tracts for precision agronomy and animal science.

There is growth and excitement in the agriculture field, Zwiefelhofer said. Farming increasingly relies on new technologies including GPS and robotics, and he said there are job opportunities as many of the people currently in the field are nearing retirement age.

“The opportunities these students have are greater than they’ve ever been before,” Zwiefelhofer said.

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