Port High senior Jack Lemkuil is getting a crash course in dairy cow husbandry from 4-H leader Jan Dommer in preparation for a career as a large-animal veterinarian
Jan Dommer, a dairy leader for 28 years with Knellsville 4-H Club and the group’s general leader for 25 years, is accustomed to introducing city kids to farm life and teaching them how to groom and handle calves, heifers and cows to show at the Ozaukee County Fair.
But she doesn’t often get a first-year dairy project member who is 17 and never touched a cow before.
Jack Lemkuil, a senior at Port Washington High School, enrolled in the dairy project at the prompting of a friend to help him decide if he wants to be a large-animal veterinarian.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, but it turned out to be a great experience,” Lemkuil said.
“It really convinced me that I want to be a large-animal vet. Jan has taught me a lot. She’s taken me to different farms and given me some great behind-the-scenes experiences. I’ve seen the different stages of a cow, and what you have to do if something is wrong.”
When Dommer realized Lemkuil was serious about being a veterinarian and working with farm animals, she took him under her wing.
“Having only two years left in 4-H, I’m trying to get him as connected as I can so he learns what he might do as a large-animal vet. I’m showing him the dairy science part,” she said. “He’s very intelligent and knowledgeable and fun to work with. He’s so positive.”
Lemkuil will shadow a veterinarian after the county fair, which opened Wednesday and runs through Sunday, Aug. 3.
He’s busy working at the Port Washington outdoor pool and preparing himself and two dairy animals — a crossbreed yearling heifer owned by Bob and Cindy Roden of Newburg and a second-year holstein cow owned by Jim Melichar in the Town of Port Washington — for the fair.
Lemkuil milked his cow for the first time last week. Since the cow must be milked twice a day, he should be adept at attaching the milking machine by the end of the fair. Judging of the dairy animals will be Friday with showmanship classes on Saturday.
Dommer has been working with Lemkuil most Sunday mornings, teaching him how to wash the animals, cut the top hairs to create the straight back line judges prefer and get the animals to walk and respond to his commands.
“They’re really kind animals. They listen to you, but sometimes they can be stubborn,” Lemkuil said.
Dommer, who retired three years ago from the U.S. Postal Service in Port Washington, is not married and doesn’t have children. The 4-H members, especially those in the dairy project, are her kids, she said.
“I like the rent-a-kid program,” she said. “I get to do fun things with them and then send them home. I get to be on dairy farms and teach kids, two of my favorite things.”
Dommer, who grew up on a dairy farm and was in the Knellsville club for nine years, graduated with a degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She taught physical education and biology at Northwestern High School in Maple for several years and was a 4-H leader there.
When Dommer returned to Port Washington, she was unable to find a teaching job, but there was an opening in the Port Washington post office. She took the Postal Service exam and ended up working there for 32 years, mostly handling the customer service window.
“When I came back, Knellsville was looking for a dairy project leader. Three years later, they needed a general leader,” Dommer said. “I plan to keep being a dairy project leader, but I’m looking for someone to take over as general leader. I’m hoping some parents decide to do it.
“4-H kids are so nice. You don’t have to deal with behavioral problems, and for the most part, they come from very good families who are active in the program and willing to volunteer.”
In her early years as a leader, almost all dairy project members lived on farms.
This year, all 18 dairy project members are city kids, so Dommer spends a lot of time at the Melichar and Roden farms because the farmers willingly loan their animals to 4-H members.
Dommer is proud that many of her city kids have chosen careers in agriculture.
Rob Fugate, who participated in the dairy project for four or five years, is a sophomore at UW-Madison majoring in dairy science and business. He wrote a research paper on mastitis in Jersey cows his freshman year and has been asked to present the paper at a convention of the U.S. Jersey Association this summer.
Another former member, Jessie Bolton, graduated with a dairy herd manager degree from Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland and is the forage manager for dairy farms for Prairie Estate Genetics.
Current member Ciara Majkowski also plans a career in agriculture and will enter UW-River Falls this fall.