Everyone knows “many hands make light work.”
his concept is perhaps best illustrated by the farming partnership formed by the families of Blair and Kathy Sawall and Steve and Marcy Riemer.
The two families have combined their farming operations to create a unique partnership that allows them to use the space at each of their farms most effectively and efficiently. It’s the strength of two families working to build a venture that is bigger as a combined effort than the sum of each individual farm could ever be on its own – a concept known as ‘synergy’.
“I’m a first generation farmer,” explained Blair Sawall. “I started this farm in 1987 – we had five cows back then. Now, with the Riemers, we have 150 milking cows and five horses.”
Sawall said his parents both grew up on farms, but when he got out of school, he pursued electro mechanical studies at technical college. From there, he worked at Hillshire for 13 years while milking 20 cows at the same time.
Eventually, he and his wife Kathy decided to go full-time as farmers. “I wasn’t in FFA when I was in school; I grew up in town. I had no experience,” Blair said. “Fortunately, my father-in-law, Les Nachtrab, had all the equipment we needed, and my dad helped us with chores.”
Kathy grew up with a farming background, and their children – Zach, Brett, Tyler and Kristi – have all become part of the family business.
“We have mostly Holstein cows, with some Brown Swiss and some Ayrshires. The horses are just for fun – we have a team that goes in the parades,” Blair explained.
The workload on a dairy farm can weigh heavy on any family, and in 1999, the Sawall and Riemer families decided to team up. There’s just as much work as there ever was, if not more-but now there’s also more hands to get the work done.
“Two months out of the year are rough,” Sawall said as he hauled buckets of water to refill stock tanks that had frozen over on a particularly cold February morning. “The winter months are the most difficult. There is actually less work to do, but the cold makes things difficult.
“Years ago, you could put your coat on, run to the barn, take your coat off and do chores and you’d stay warm,” explained Blair. “Now, things are much bigger and more spread apart. You’re outside more, and cold affects everything. Fortunately, the animals do better in the cold than they do in the heat. You never hear of cows dying because of cold weather, but the summer heat is very hard on them because they were born with a winter coat.
“The winter months are also a bit slower around the farm since the kids are in school, but over the summer, it’s just our two families. We don’t have any hired help, so we have to rely on the kids to help get the crops harvested. Baling hay is always lots of work,” commented Blair. “My dad, Dick Sawall, helps with chores a lot. Steve Riemer’s uncle Roland Polzin also does a lot of spring and fall field work.”
Sawall said market fluctuations have a significant impact on how profitable the farm can be in a given year. “There are some good years and some bad years,” he stated. “Right now, milk prices aren’t too bad, but buying feed is very expensive. We have about 700 acres of land to farm, so sometimes we have extra to sell, but there’s never any guarantee when it comes to crops.”
Steve and Marcy Riemer – along with their sons, Jake Zach and Cory – work very hard alongside the Sawalls to provide a team that can be flexible when situations require it. “Everybody works long days, but it makes it so much easier to partner with them,” Sawall said. “Someone is always here. Being neighbors and not related, it works out well because if one of us has to go somewhere or you need to get off of work, you can do it. When you’re by yourself, you can’t always do that. One guy can keep things going by himself while others are gone for a day – if everything goes well.”
Cows are milked twice daily at the Riemer farm – there are 180 total, milk and dry – while 160 heifers also need to be cared for at the Sawall farm.
With the real-life experience provided at their homes, the Sawall and Riemer children have also enjoyed the added value provided by Clintonville High School’s FFA program, which helps to teach them leadership skills and can help provide scholarships through the FFA Alumni association. The lessons learned at home are reinforced in FFA, and vice-versa.
“I enjoy living on a farm,” says Jake Riemer, who is president of the Clintonville High School FFA chapter. “There are a lot of responsibilities, and I feel like my instincts and knowledge in some areas is sharper than that of some city kids. Living on a farm, you learn about money management. The farm life is like this: you only have so much money for a period of time, and you have to make it work. I like it because I don’t need to go out and get a job or be asking for money; I just work on the farm for my weekly allowance.”
In addition to his studies at school, FFA involvement, and work on the farm, Riemer finds time to play basketball, baseball, and participate in 4-H.
“I do sports on weekdays and milk cows on Saturday and Sunday. I also help feed the calves and do field work,” Riemer explained. “In the summer, I have baseball games about twice a week, and I’m in the tractor the rest of the week. It’s nice to work with another family, because we can cover for each other and there is not as much pressure; we are here to help each other.”
FFA is a perfect opportunity for students like Riemer to hone their intellectual capabilities and prepare for life after school.
“FFA places strong emphasis on leadership and getting you ready to lead outside school in real life,” Riemer stated. “As president, I lead meetings, help plan events, and work closely with our advisor. It’s lots of fun with about 70 members in our FFA chapter.
“I’m happy with the choices I’ve made so far in life,” commented Riemer. “Being in FFA has been great, and I’m glad my parents raised me on a farm. The lessons I learn here will benefit me later in life.”
Tyler Sawall also says he enjoys the farm life.
“It’s great – I have a lot of expected responsibilities. I get to hang around with animals and learn how to take care of things,” said Tyler. “I’m in charge of feeding the heifers and I help quite a bit with planting in spring and baling hay during the summer.”
Tyler also happens to be the reporter for the Clintonville FFA Chapter. He works closely with Jake in FFA, and the two are teammates in basketball and baseball. In 4-H, Tyler is president of Krossing Creeks 4-H Club, while Jake is vice president.
“Programs like FFA give us experiences with animals that help out a lot,” Tyler stated. “We learn more in-depth concepts with FFA. We took a trip to Colorado with our FFA advisor last year, and we got to tour some incredible farm operations.”
Tyler says he has enjoyed growing up on a dairy farm.
“My dad was a city kid, and he has taught us that discipline is a very important part of the farming life that isn’t as common in city life. There are lots of ways to get hurt on a farm. There are lots of things that have to get done on a farm – there are no breaks, it’s an everyday thing.”
For the moment, each of the Riemer and Sawall kids are planning to pursue educational studies that will take them away from the farm after high school and in their careers.
“If the kids are interested, we will pass it on to them,” said Blair. “I don’t know if any of them want it right now.”
Regardless of what the future may hold, Blair says the present is good because of the friendship and teamwork that lightens the load for everyone involved.
“Everybody is busy – there are always going to be long days,” he concluded. “But it’s not like a job as long as you’re still having fun.”