His deterrence was fueled by the fact that the dairy industry is a tough business to be in, and his farm’s facilities were aging fast. Speared by her spitfire and hardworking personality, Mitzie was determined she would prove her father wrong and own and operate her own dairy.
Starting with 45 cows on her Charlotte, Iowa farm, Mitzie grew her herd one step at a time. Today, along with her four sons, Mitzie milk 1,300 Holstein-Jersey crossbreds and farms an equal number of acres, raising mostly corn, alfalfa and triticale, of which all goes back to feed the herd.
Mitzie is no stranger to hard work. She was raised on her family’s farm, and in 1986 her father, Ron Ketelson, decided to sell his herd in the whole herd government buyout program. With his entire herd going to slaughter, Ron figured that would be the end of any cows being milked on his eastern Iowa dairy farm.
Mitzie had other plans. Five years to the day after her father’s cows left, she moved back to the family farm with a small herd of cows and her sons.
Today, three of her four sons, along with a nephew who Mitzie essentially raised as a son, work full-time on the family farm, Blanchard Family Dairy, LLC.
Like most farm kids, Mitzie’s boys were expected to help with the work. And that they did. Mitzie credits much of her success to her boys constantly being by her side. The ‘boys’ are now grown men – BJ, Seth, Brian and Brent – who saved their own money earned from working at the dairy to buy their own cows.
Her oldest son, BJ, says he knew from an early age he would follow in his mother’s footsteps. Like his mother, BJ is a natural-born leader and has taken on the roles of monitoring feed, managing manure and overseeing the crops.
“I just like working outside,” he shares.
Her other sons who work on the farm help in different capacities. Seth works as a general laborer, Brian oversees the shop and maintains equipment, and Brent is being groomed to take over his mother’s role as a herdsman.
Expansion Over the Years
Nearly 20 years ago the Blanchard’s put up a 500-cow barn, their first major expansion. At the time, they formed an LLC when Mitzie’s sons were between the ages of 13 and 21 years old. Under the advice of the farm’s accountant, the sons became official co-owners of the farm.
In 2012 and 2014, additional 500-cow barns were added, along with expanding the milking parlor in 2014. In 2017, growth came to a halt, as their milk cooperative instituted a production cap.
Growth has always been Mitzie’s mantra, but she also has put a keen focus on high components and solid reproduction to help dial in on efficiencies and profitability.
Reminiscing, Mitzie knows her father is proud that the family dairy legacy continues, and she recalls that he often would stop by the dairy to take it all in. Her father was proud, not only of his daughter for being determined to make it work, but of her boys for following in their mother’s shadow.
Joy and pride are also found in Mitzie’s heartbeat, as she has been able to watch her boys grow with responsibility. Each has taken on pivotal roles that have shaped the dairy for success. She recalls back to 2009, and while most producers remember it as one of their worst years, she remembers it differently. She says it was one of her best, as her boys had been educated on some tough lessons.
“They learned early on how to refinance loans and cut costs,” she says. “It was wonderful to watch my boys come into their own as young leaders.”
Mitzie says she has no regrets, even though the journey over the last three decades hasn’t been an easy one. Together, as a family, they have figured it out, using each expansion as a learning curve and a steppingstone for success.
This past summer Mitzie turned 60, and the boys and their families celebrated their heroic mother by taking her off the farm to go on a trip to Colorado. The once nonstop worker admits she is starting to slow down and confesses that she doesn’t worry about the future of the farm she fought hard for.
“I’m reassured by my son’s ability to run every angle of the dairy,” she says. “Undoubtedly it will take hard work. If I have taught them anything, it is how to work hard.”