“Moyer,” a 220-pound crossbred barrow lumbered about the farmyard, waiting for his photo op. A well-placed bucket of grain made him an accommodating subject as his proud keepers, members of the Milton 4-H club, gathered for a picture. Moyer, like a similarly situated character from “Charlotte’s Web,” along with many of his barn mates living on Bess Ann Wenham’s farm, will soon be arriving at the Rock County 4-H Fair in Janesville.
The Milton 4-H club has 120 members, club chairperson Becky Kronberg said. Becky is Bess Ann’s daughter.
Bess Ann, a 1965 graduate of Milton High School, and former 4-H member, described how her 156-acre farm, located between Milton and Lima, had changed: she moved onto the property in the early 1970s with her husband, Robert, now deceased. The farm was an operating dairy then. The cows were sold in 2004, she said. Today, if her grandchildren and the Milton 4-H club members didn’t keep animals on the farm, there would be no animals on the farm, she said.
To market, to market
The Kronberg family lives in a subdivision in Milton. Becky’s son, Ben, 19, became interested in showing pigs as 4-H projects when he was 10, Becky said. Over time, his interest developed into a small business. Three years ago, Ben began breeding and selling piglets to other 4-H club members. Today he helps with projects and sells piglets to 4-H members throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois, his father, Todd Kronberg, said.
Members of Becky’s family have been involved in 4-H for over 100 years, she said. Robert’s parents were working the farm as an operating dairy when Bess Ann arrived after she and Robert were married. They, too, had been involved in 4-H, both Bess Ann and Becky said. That was in the 1930s, they said.
Ben joined 4-H 11 years ago, he recalled. 4-H members must be 9 to show animals at the fair, he said, but he began showing dairy cows at breed association shows when he was 7.
Today, Todd helps Bess Ann manage the farm, which still produces such crops as soy, corn and hay. Becky, Todd and another club parent, Diane Kudrna, Janesville, serve as the club’s dairy project leaders. Diane’s children, also club members, Cole, 17, and Jenna, 14, attend Milton High School. Both show heifers that are kept on Bess Ann’s farm.
Dairy projects are popular with the Milton club kids, and Ben has been instrumental in helping mentor younger club members as they develop their dairy skills, Becky said.
Ben, a sophomore, studies agricultural business management at UW-Madison. This will be his last year participating as a club member, Becky said. His sister, Sara, 15, and a sophomore at Milton High School, has stepped up to fill his boots, helping club members with cows and heifers, and Ben with raising pigs.
Without an operating dairy, Ben said, cows are sent to other farms to calf. Ten Angus beef cows live on the farm, as well as 15 Holstein heifers that are used for showing and breeding.
Pigs are more plentiful: there are 10 sows, or adult female pigs that have had at least one litter of piglets, and 10 barrows, which are castrated males, and 15 gilts, which are female pigs that have not yet had a litter.
“Barrows are what we sell,” Ben said. They are sold at the fair for meat, he added.
Family 4-H tradition
Becky and Todd both grew up on dairy farms. Becky is a 1991 graduate of Milton High School. She grew up on the farm where her children raise their 4-H projects today. Todd grew up in Columbia County, attending Columbia High School and graduating in 1988. The two met at UW-Madison where they each were studying agriculture. They were married in 1997, and after living for a short time in Baraboo, the young family returned to Milton. Ben was 2, Becky recalled.
“We moved to Milton to give our kids the farming life, 4-H and the experiences we were lucky enough to have,” Becky said.
Supportive of the program, Becky said, farming is just a part of what is offered to club members. They can explore myriad topics through projects, take trips, and make lifelong friends, she said.
“It teaches so much. 4-H is a huge responsibility on the animal side of things. Kids experience hard work and learn to have a great work ethic,” Becky said.
“This club is very active in community service,” she added.
Said Bess Ann: “I did not grow up on a farm. I grew up in Milton so I didn’t have animals.”
Instead, she said, she participated in home furnishings, clothing, foods and other activities.
“There were no Clover Buds. You had to be 10 back then to join,” Bess Ann said. She stayed in the program until she was 18.
Sara and Bess Ann work together to make clothing. When Becky joins, three generations sew clothing together. “We like getting each other’s opinions,” Sara said.
As a dairy leader, Todd is responsible for the animals and kids in the group. He helps them with bedding, getting the animals to the fair and other organizational themes.
Sara described the fair as “very hectic and stressful.”
Cole’s projects this year are dairy and photography.
Jenna is doing sheep, photography, home environment and visual arts.
Diane grew up on a 160-acre dairy farm located west of Janesville, she said. The family milked 100 cows. Her parents sold the farm in 2004. They were the first generation of her family to farm in Janesville, she said.
Diane has served as a dairy project leader with this group for three years. She has also served as a dairy leader for the Harmony 4-H club, she said.
Describing his impressions of 4-H, Cole said: “I just think it is good experience and you get to meet new people and have fun.”
During the fair, he said, “everybody plays cards and we hang out.”
Cole described the dairy barn at the Rock County 4-H Fair as the club’s social space. “It’s like home base,” Becky said.
According to Becky, 4-H is popular and continues to grow. She sees more club members joining who are in fifth-grade and younger, she said.
“It’s always been popular. We had 100 kids in our 4-H chorus right here in Milton,” Bess Ann said.