Farm Life Grows a Family and a Dream
As a high school junior, Kelly Oudenhoven was told that the career she wanted to pursue wasn’t an option because being a farmer was only for men.
Now, as the herd manager for Larrand Dairy, she boldly smiles sharing that story of her meeting with a high school counselor.
Her journey to becoming the herd manager on her in-laws’ farm wasn’t a direct one. Prior to her role on the farm, she worked in the emergency department at the Fox Valley Animal Referral Center. During her time at the center, she worked her way from third shift to first, and then eventually onto the management team. It was also when she met her husband Keith and started helping with the heifers on his family’s farm during nights and weekends.
“After getting married and many discussions and prayers, Keith and I decided we wanted to become the fourth generation to farm,” said Kelly. “So, I left my management role to be on the farm full-time.”
On the farm, her duties include managing the cows and the employees and their schedules. She also manages daily operations and keeping the farm clean and organized.
“Being in a leadership position and having a role on the decision-making team means so much to me,” said Kelly. “Women can be overlooked and I’m forever grateful to be in the position that I’m in.”
Being a mom of four keeps her busy with tasks as well.
“Not only do I manage the animals and employees, but I also am a mom,” Kelly explained.
Keith and Kelly have been together for nearly 10 years. Their four children: Josephine, Jackson, Allison and Clayton enjoy coming to the farm with her every day.
Keith is a mechanical engineer for Pierce manufacturing in Appleton where he designs fire trucks. He currently works full-time off the farm, but the couple hopes to someday become the sole owners together.
“We are always looking to the future and ways that we can continue to farm,” said Kelly. “Keith and I have started the transition process with his parents. We are very proud of that and hope to one day pass the farm on to our children.”
While making a successful transition of farm ownership is already a challenge, the industry faces numerous challenges.
“Labor is a concern on a lot of farms, and ours is no different,” said Kelly. “Knowing that we will need to make upgrades in the near future, we are making plans for a robotic milking system.”
The challenge of consumer misconceptions also is one that Kelly sees daily.
“I grew up on a farm where we raised replacement heifers for a local dairy farm,” explained Kelly. “I always wanted to tell others about it. I still love to tell my story of farming and what it means to me and my family.”
For that reason, Kelly hopes to someday incorporate an agri-tourism business on the farm.
“I want to be the farm where a family could choose to spend a Saturday morning at learning about where their food comes from and being able to see it firsthand, rather than looking online to get mixed reviews,” Kelly shared. “For now, we keep looking for ways that we can be advocates for agriculture and we continue to tell our story to our consumers.”
Knowing farming isn’t for the faint of heart, the Oudenhovens are looking at the challenges that they are facing. Kelly credits the support she’s had from Keith, her parents, father-in-law Larry and women leaders in agriculture who have influenced her farming story. where she is now and where she’ll be in the future.
“More than anything, my future includes farming successfully with Keith by my side,” stated Kelly. “I want to be able to give my children the childhood that I cherished growing up.”
Blossoming in Farm Bureau
Farm Bureau gives the Oudenhovens an outlet to share their story. It also provides them with opportunities to learn and network.
“My friend Michelle Backhaus introduced me to Farm Bureau in 2013,” explained Kelly. “Outagamie County was looking for a Young Farmer and Agriculturist chair and she thought I would be a good fit.”
“I was craving leadership development after being involved with FFA throughout my high school years,” said Kelly. “Farm Bureau has many opportunities for leadership within the organization.”
One of the most memorable experiences she had while a member of Farm Bureau is the 2016 YFA Washington, D.C., Fly-In.
Kelly also finds value in being part of a grassroots organization.
“Being able to bring forth resolutions at the county level and see them come to life in a policy discussion is very important to me,” she said. “I tell others to join Farm Bureau to help farmers fight the good fight. We are in this together and with the help of Farm Bureau lobbying for us and with us, we can benefit in the end.”
As chair of the YFA program at the state level, she sits on the state board representing Farm Bureau members between 18 and 35 years old. Serving as WFBF YFA Chair since December, her time on the WFBF Board hasn’t been long but she is learning fast.
“I am incredibly humbled and extremely proud to be able to represent the YFA members on the WFBF Board of Directors,” Kelly shared. “For me, to be the voice of YFA members from around the state and to make sure our needs are heard is an honor.”
Joining the WFBF Board during its 101st year provides a unique opportunity for the YFA leader.
“There’s no doubt that this year is one of change,” said Kelly. “As an organization, we are looking forward after celebrating our centennial. It’s exciting to be a part of it.”
She realizes that her roles on their farm and in Farm Bureau are special.
“I know that not everyone has this opportunity,” said Kelly. “At the end of the day, I am a mom, a farmer and an agricultural leader doing the best I can and I’m proud of that. I always try and remember on the hard days, that if the women who came before me could do it, so can I.”
For extra motivation, she can reflect on how far she has come from that high school career meeting and where she has yet to go.
Story and photos by Amy Eckelberg. The original version appeared in the February|March 2020 issue of Rural Route.