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Daughters take over for injured father on dairy farm

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 07/02/2013 11:04 AM

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ELGIN, Minn. — It was one of those days when things weren't working out as they were supposed to.

Kevin Tesmer was vaccinating heifers when he noticed the nervousness in one's eye. The next thing he knew, he was on his back looking at four hooves 3 feet from his head.

His knee was blown out in the accident, leaving him bedridden for two weeks. He laid flat on his back with his knee elevated so his foot didn't swell.

Neighbors, family and friends came to his aid. Paul, a relief milker, came in and helped with the milking. Tyler, a neighbor, mixed the total mixed ration. Others tended to planting the crops.

But after a time, they needed to return to their other jobs, and Tesmer remained unable to return to his chores. His wife, Wendy, daughters, Whitney and Lindsey, and employee, Taylor Marquardt, have carried on in his stead. The last time he milked cows was seven weeks ago June 12.

Wendy, Whitney, Lindsey and Taylor all have other jobs, but between them, they have rearranged schedules to do the seven hours of daily chores at New Horizon Farm.

It's been hard to juggle schedules and make sure everything gets done, his daughters acknowledged, but it's for their dad.

"I know that he wants to keep the cows," said Whitney, 18.

"He's built this from the ground up," said Lindsey, 22.

"He needed help, so I just did it," Whitney said.

Wendy said her daughters didn't hesitate. As soon as they found out their father couldn't milk, they figured out who would take the morning and night milking and who would do what chores.

"It doesn't surprise me, that's just the way they are," she said.

Marquardt, 18, of Plainview, started helping on the farm March 17. She'd been trained to milk before the accident occurred and hoped to continue working for the Tesmers after Lindsey and Taylor left for college in the fall.

"She's been amazing through this whole thing," Lindsey said.

Kevin's pride in his family and Taylor comes through in the sheet of paper he grabs in the milkhouse. It's a note detailing the farm's somatic cell count. The dairy is on the list of the top 100 farms for the lowest cell count in 2012. The farm averaged a SCC of 73,000.

Lindsey, Whitney and Taylor have kept the SCC low, Kevin says, the pride in their accomplishment shining through. Three recent readings were 65,000; 63,000; and 48,000.

The girls all knew how to milk, clean gutters, mix the total mixed ration, feed calves and do veterinary checks before he was injured, but they were in school and have other jobs.

Without their willingness to help, things would be quite different on the farm.

"I'd've sold them," Kevin said.

There would have been no way he could have kept the cows. Wendy is unable to milk because of a back injury.

Kevin pitches in where he can now, mowing the lawn and running for seed, but his primary focus is knee therapy.

"I don't do much outside," he said. "I have been behaving."

His farm is small, with 25 cows and 240 crop acres. Kevin also buys calves and raises steers.

He quit milking for six months over the winter of 2010-11. He sold the milking herd in August 2010, keeping the heifers, two show cows and three cull cows. On March 1, 2012, he began milking again.

The herd includes 11 Holsteins, six red and white Holsteins and two registered Ayrshires. Most of the Holsteins also are registered.

He has four cows he uses as nurse cows. Last week, he had 12 nurse calves on four cows. He buys calves and starts them on the cows rather than feed milk replacer. It yields a better product, Kevin said.

The future of New Horizon Farm remains a bit uncertain at the moment. Kevin is on crutches. His ACL (anterior cruciate ligament ) is gone. His PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) is stretched out of shape. His MCL (medial collateral ligament) is detached from the bone. The doctor has told him he hopes to have him walking in two weeks, and he's working hard on therapy in hopes of strengthening his knee. If he has to have knee reconstructive surgery, he'll be laid up for six months to a year.

He won't be able to count on his daughters to help for much longer. They leave for college in August. Lindsey is going north to St. Cloud to study elementary and special education and Whitney is going south to Winona to study criminal justice. Marquardt has one year left at Plainview-Elgin-Millville High School.

The girls don't want to see the cows go through the sales barn.

"It's one day at a time," Kevin said.