Deb Reinhart, the 2007 World Dairy Expo Woman of the Year, is a woman in perpetual motion.
Reinhart has full-time responsibilities as farm manager on her family's 250-cow New Holstein dairy farm, works 20 hours a week off the farm as assistant to the Calumet County treasurer, is a wife and mother and still finds time to serve on the Calumet County Zoning Board of Adjustments and Town of Charlestown Planning Commission. The 55 year old also lends her time and talents to several farm organizations, sings in her church choir, and is envied by her friends and neighbors for her beautiful perennial flower garden and tastefully decorated turn-of-the-century farm house.
Keeping all the balls in the air without letting any of them drop requires plenty of discipline and dedication. Reinhart is quick to credit her husband, David Geiser, and everyone she works with for her success.
"I don't do all of this alone. I've had a lot of terrific opportunities as a woman, but I've had a lot of support," she says.
Besides her family, Reinhart says her top priority is the farm, especially the calves.
"I normally feed calves both morning and night," she says. "It usually takes three to four hours twice a day." She keeps detailed health records on all of the calves, administers drugs and electrolytes as needed and makes sure they're all eating and drinking well.
On the occasional morning when she has to attend a meeting in Madison or go into work before she can finish her calf chores, she relies on a retired neighbor to fill in. "He does an excellent job with the calves," Reinhart says. "I'd be lost without him."
She monitors the dairy herd's ration on a daily basis keeping track of all feed changes. Once a week she balances the ration. Since taking on this responsibility a few years ago, milk production has increased. She also monitors dry matter intakes and has begun supplementing the ration with purchased hay. She does the hay buying and checks feed quality. Gold Star Dairy's current rolling herd average is 26,500 pounds of milk and 918 pounds of butterfat.
Reinhart likes to do farm financial record keeping early in the morning before feeding calves.
"I try to do it everyday so it doesn't pile up," she explains. She also handles the payroll and human resources management and training for their six full-time and two part-time employees.
Reinhart admits to getting overwhelmed once in a while.
"I had a lot of calves in July and calves have to be my No. 1 priority on the farm," she says. "So I delegate in other areas."
Reinhart credits her husband for "handling the big stuff."
"My background is business. He's the cow guy. I've never even milked in our new double-8 parallel milking parlor," she says. "I leave that to David – he's a great cow man. Everything about us is a partnership. He's the hands-on guy," Reinhart explains. "If it needs to be written down or taught, I do that. He's not very detail oriented. Details are what I do. We're a good team."
Reinhart and her husband own 183 acres but control 1,000 acres through their nutrient management plan.
"Most of it we control through an arrangement with the neighbors who grow crops for us," she explains. "And in turn we spread manure on the land."
Cows and youngstock are intensively grazed from April 15 to Nov. 1. They also feed a TMR to the cows as well as the heifers.
Growing their business
Reinhart grew up in rural Gettysburg, Penn., was formally educated in home economics at Drexel University and worked in the retail fashion industry near Washington, D.C., before marrying her husband and moving to Wisconsin in 1975. The couple raised three sons – Ian, 30, Joshua, 28, and Adrian, 26, – on the farm. Josh works full-time in construction in Appleton and helps part-time on the farm.
In 1987, the couple was milking 80 cows when Reinhart decided to take a full-time job with the HC Prange Co.
"I got to the point where I was just doing the books on the farm," Reinhart says.
"In 1993, Prange Co. sold to Younkers and I didn't want to relocate to Iowa," she explains. "That's when we started to look at growing our dairy operation."
Reinhart credits the UW-Extension Ag-Map Program with helping them decide how and where to grow their dairy.
"Then we got into PDPW (Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin) and that was another opportunity for us to work with other farmers who wanted to grow their dairies."
By 1996, the couple built a freestall barn and flat-barn parlor, and began expanding and rotationally grazing their herd. In 1999 Reinhart started working part time for the county primarily for health insurance.
In 2000, their house and freestall barn were heavily damaged by a tornado.
"Once again David and I had to sit down and figure out what we were going to do and what our priorities were going to be," Reinhart says. They chose to rebuild a 220-cow freestall barn and fix up their nearly 100 year old farm house. In 2004, they built a 100-cow special needs barn and in 2005, they added a double-8 parallel pit milking parlor.
A national award winner in 4-H leadership in 1974, Reinhart learned at an early age the importance of leadership and used it as a springboard for her involvement in farm organizations. In the 1980s, Reinhart became the first woman to sit on her county's Farm Bureau Board and chaired the Young Farmer Committee. Reinhart was selected to take part in the first class of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program and Dairy 2020.
During the 1990s, she worked as a farm family outreach specialist for the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board implementing a dislocated farmer program in Northeastern Wisconsin. Her farm training as well as her off-farm experience in education and marketing helped her in this role as farm family counselor. She helped farm families get through stressful times and put them in contact with other professionals who could help them.
Most recently, she has served seven years on the PDPW board of directors and is in her first year on the PDPW Education Foundation Board. She has been elected to her third term on the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium board of directors and is currently serving as chairman.
Reinhart says each leadership opportunity helped her grow as a person and led to more opportunities.
"I would not be able to chair WLIC if it hadn't been for my previous experiences," she says.
Through her involvement with PDPW, Reinhart says she's learned the value of land use, nutrient management and zoning and became active in her county and township land use committees.
So how does she decide what to get involved in?
"I've always had a hard time saying 'no,'" she admits, "but one of my guiding principles is to ask myself 'is Deb Reinhart going to make a difference?' If the answer is 'yes' and I can give enough time to make a difference then I do it."
A big honor
Reinhart was both surprised and honored to be selected as the 2007 World Dairy Expo Woman of the Year. She says when she accepts the award during Expo tonight, she will do so on behalf of all of the people who helped her and influenced her in her life. "This award simply can't be just about me. It's so much larger than me."
Since 1973 when World Dairy Expo first started giving the World Dairy Expo Woman of the Year Award, 10 of the award recipients have been from the Dairy State. In addition to the 2007 recipient Deb Reinhart, Wisconsin winners include:
2004 Cris Peterson, Grantsburg
2003 Linda Hodorff, Eden
1991 Myrna Sue Jones, Marshall (Deceased)
1986 Virginia Boyke, Fond du Lac (Deceased)
1985 Doris Hetts, Fort Atkinson
1981 Audrey Sickinger, Cato (Deceased)
1980 Ann Randall, Balsam Lake
1978 Jocelyn Rhein, Brownsville (Deceased)
1975 Laura Beane, Fort Atkinson