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Heart and soul in ag

Agriculture.com Staff 03/21/2006 @ 2:16pm

Once upon a time, an Onondago County, New York, dairy princess grew up to become the fourth-generation owner of her family's dairy farm on the eastern shore of Lake Skaneateles. Unlike the fairy tale world, Kimberly Fesko is proving her pedigree through real-world challenges: from managing a diverse employee team to close cow encounters that cover her from head to toe in manure.

"When I went to college, I knew my life would be in agriculture," Kim says. "I didn't know how it would play out."

Her great-grandfather, William Fesko, came to this country in 1922 as a teenager, from Gary, Indiana. Seeking a healthier alternative to his steel mill job, he bought 110 acres. After Kim's grandfather, George, joined the farm, it grew to 1,100 acres. In 1966, George had one of the first free stall parlors in the state. When his wife died in 1984, he turned over the operation to Kim's parents, Rick and Chris.

They had met in high school and married in 1974 after Rick graduated from Cornell University with an agricultural economics degree. Chris graduated from Cortland State College with an emphasis in science education. She combined a 14-year teaching career with being caregiver to calves and helping with fieldwork.

Their three children, Benjamin, 29, Kimberly, 27, and Todd, 21, grew up helping out on the farm.

"Rick and I farm because we like it," Chris says. "We gave our kids farm responsibilities and said if they wanted to join us someday, they'd have to work here and like working here for five years. If that's not what they wanted, they shouldn't feel guilty."

Kim decided to return after graduating from State University of New York at Cobleskill in 1998 with an ag science degree and an animal science minor.

"When I came back to the farm, I saw calves I fed in high school having their calves," she says. "It made me feel good to know I'd played a part in it."

She adds, "A few times I thought I'd leave, but then life got great, and all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place."

Once upon a time, an Onondago County, New York, dairy princess grew up to become the fourth-generation owner of her family's dairy farm on the eastern shore of Lake Skaneateles. Unlike the fairy tale world, Kimberly Fesko is proving her pedigree through real-world challenges: from managing a diverse employee team to close cow encounters that cover her from head to toe in manure.

After her decision, the Feskos opted to grow the 250-cow herd internally. It's now at 400. "Our goal is 8% to 10% per year growth," Kim says. Herd average is 23,000 pounds of milk per year, with milkings twice daily.

Rick and Chris openly share finances with her. "It shocked people eight years ago when we gave Kim the checkbook and a duplicate set of books," Chris says. "But she's very analytical and disciplined. Bookwork is discipline."

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