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Getting a good start

03/15/2011 @ 2:58pm

Matt Hartwig didn’t inherit a chance to start dairying. But that proved no hindrance. He used resolution, a readiness for opportunity, and creative business arrangements. Today the 29-year-old Hartwig and his wife, Tabitha, own 150 dairy cows and a 160-acre farm near Athens, Wisconsin.

“I grew up on a 50-acre hobby farm in Minnesota, and I always enjoyed being around animals,” he says. “I started working for a dairy farmer while I was in high school. I never really wanted to do anything else but be a dairy farmer.”

Yet because the notion of dairying seemed distant, he aimed for a career in veterinary medicine. To start, he got a degree in dairy science management, interning briefly on a 500-cow dairy in Oregon.

After college, he returned home to work for his former employer. He also worked in construction for a while.

Then, uncertainty about making either of these jobs long-term careers sent him back to undergraduate school to prepare for a career in veterinary medicine. But his dairying ambitions would not rest. “The only thing I thought of was how I could get into dairying on my own,” he says.

The seed for a start came from attending a grazing conference. There he met the owners of a grass-based dairy in Wisconsin. “They were looking for an intern for the summer, so I left home to learn something about grazing cows,” says Hartwig.

He worked through the summer and into winter, when his employers traveled to Australia. In their absence, a surprising turn of events placed the herd of 150 cows in his ownership. The couple had decided to buy a second farm in Australia and offered to sell Hartwig their cows and machinery as part of the financial arrangements needed to secure their second farm.

Though the chance to buy cows came out of the blue, Hartwig had prepared. He’d already saved a nest egg of $60,000, and the money made a down payment on the cattle and equipment.

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