Raised in a barn

Written by Molly Schmitt

With fewer people having a direct connection to a farm, young farmers are harder to come by than just a few generations ago. But, that fact hasn’t stopped three young ladies from developing a deep passion for farming and the dairy industry that they plan to continue in the future.

All from southern Missouri, Cheyenne Anderson, Ashton Atteberry and Ellie Wantland prove the future is bright for the industry. Raised on dairy farms, each of these women have taken steps toward becoming successful dairy producers. From building up their own herds to participating in national competitions to pursuing careers in agriculture, each of these teenagers has a story to tell and many stories yet to be had.

Cheyenne Anderson (16, Conway, Mo.) 
“The day she brought me home from the hospital, my mom had me out in the milk barn. That’s all we’ve done my whole life — farm,” says Cheyenne, DFA’s youngest producer. “It all started when I was really little and around the farm 24/7. I’ve kind of been hooked on it from the beginning.”

While Cheyenne was always a big helper on her parents’ farm, she took the next step when she got her first job on a nearby dairy at the age of 13. Every day she worked with cows, from milking at home in the morning to helping at her neighbor’s in the evening.

In 2016, Cheyenne’s parents sold their dairy herd, and she continued working for her neighbors. Using the money she made working for the other dairy and from selling some of her cows the prior year, she purchased her own herd at the age of 15, only one year after her family called it quits.

“I missed it [dairy farming] and wanted to get back into it,” Cheyenne says. “I mostly missed just being around the cows in general. To me, there’s nothing more relaxing than being able to work with animals.”

Currently 16 years old, Cheyenne milks 27 Holstein cows and runs her own operation on her parents’ farm. While her dad is there to help if needed, milking, feeding, washing, sanitizing and everything else is up to her.

Cheyenne credits her dad, Dale, and mom, Oleta, as well as her late grandma, for instilling the work ethic in her to pursue her passion for dairy. Currently attending Laclede County R-1 High School, she is considering careers within agriculture that will allow her to continue dairy farming after school. Cheyenne’s goal is to reach 200 head eventually, and she is continuing to expand her knowledge about dairy farming every day.

Her neighbor, whom she occasionally still helps with milking, is teaching her how to artificially inseminate (AI) her cows. While she uses bulls to breed some of her cows, she also actively breeds some of her herd using AI to improve their udders and milk production. 

Aside from staying busy working on the farm, Cheyenne is active in 4-H and FFA, and shows dairy, beef, boar goats and lambs at shows up to the national level. Through her involvement, she is able to meet new people from all over the country, which she says is one of the most rewarding parts of farming.

“One of the biggest things I’ve learned through farming is to be responsible and take care of things,” she says. “Farming teaches you how to show respect to people, animals and the environment, which is something a lot of people need to learn in today’s society. I like to help people, and to me, the biggest thing you can do as a farmer is help people through producing food.”

Ashton Atteberry (19, Conway, Mo.) 
Raised on her family’s dairy farm, Atteberry Dairy, Ashton began working on the farm at a very young age, which sparked her continued passion for the industry.

“I can honestly say that I was raised in a barn. As a toddler, I was always in the milk barn with my mom,” Ashton says. “Living on a dairy farm has given me opportunities and experiences that many kids don’t have. I learned to appreciate all the hard work and dedication that it takes to produce a product for others, and learned that it is something I want to be a part of.”

Growing up, Ashton increasingly took on responsibilities around the dairy, including milking, feeding calves and working alongside her dad on the farm and in the fields. When she was 13 years old, she received a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase five of her own milk cows.

Before graduating high school, Ashton purchased an additional 25 Holsteins to increase her herd to 30. She manages and is responsible for all her expenses, such as feed, hay, veterinary care and added labor costs.

“Living on a farm and owning my own dairy cows has positively affected my life and has taught me many lessons, such as challenges in life, hard work, dedication, responsibility and the management of cattle, land and money,” Ashton says. “I have been raised to be financially independent and have learned to manage and save money to pay my current and future expenses. I cannot imagine any other way of life and want to raise my family the same way my family has raised me, which is on a farm.”

Ashton expanded her agricultural knowledge and found success as an active FFA member in high school. From being a chapter officer to using her dairy cows as her entrepreneurship project, she was recognized for her hard work and dedication to dairy by receiving the Midwest Dairy Association Award for Dairy Entrepreneurship, FFA Excellence Award, FFA Star in Agriscience and first place at the area and state level for dairy entrepreneurship.

Looking to further her agricultural knowledge, Ashton is currently pursuing her associate’s degree in agriculture at Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Mo. She then plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business. While attending college classes, she lives at home and is still able to manage her herd and work on the farm. Ashton plans to expand her herd and manage her own farm in the future, as well as become a successful woman in agriculture, which includes telling the dairy story to others.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there about dairy farming, such as how we treat our cows and the product we produce,” she says. “We love our cows — we properly care and provide for them, just like they provide for our family, and the product they produce is fresh, safe and nutritious.”

Ellie Wantland (18, Niangua, Mo.)
Working on her family’s fifth-generation dairy farm with her dad and two sisters (Katie and Lila), Ellie found her passion for dairy in the show ring.

“I got started at 3 years old with bucket/bottle calves and that snowballed into my sisters and I wanting to show and get more involved in the dairy industry,” Ellie says. “We’re now at the point where all three of us girls plan to return to the agriculture industry or dairy specifically.”

Ellie and her sisters went from showing at their county fair to working their way up to state and national competitions. She also expanded her involvement by competing in dairy judging contests through 4-H and FFA. Her judging team found success at national competition and even have a chance to judge in Europe in the future.

Through FFA, Ellie has also become very involved as her chapter’s president and as vice president for her area. As an active FFA member, she was awarded second place in Dairy Placement Proficiency at the state level and went on to win the Missouri FFA Star in Placement award.

“Being involved in things like FFA and state breed associations has really opened doors to all the different things I can be involved in and possible careers,” Ellie says. “I used to think all you could do was milk cows in the dairy industry, but I’ve realized there are a lot of opportunities out there.”

On her family’s 70-cow dairy, which includes registered Holsteins and Guernseys, Ellie plays an active role. Not only does she own 20 cows herself, but she also takes care of her family’s show heifers and bottle calves. Additionally, she oversees the farm’s breeding program by choosing bulls to breed to their cows using AI.

“I work with breed associations and other people to build up our sire index and get new bulls to improve the milking herd and our show calves,” Ellie says. “On our farm, I honestly do everything from milking to working in the hay field and am kind of like my dad’s right-hand man.”

Ellie just graduated high school and plans to attend college in the fall with a goal to eventually major in animal science at Oklahoma State University. She hopes to return to the dairy industry and do her part to meet the needs of the industry.

“One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that agriculture affects every aspect of their daily life. Agriculture provides so much, from research to medicine to clothes and more,” she says. “For some of us, it’s our entire life, and for others it’s little things throughout the day that they don’t necessarily realize.”