This series will highlight women who are actively owning or operating dairy farms around our great state of Washington. These women play pivitol roles in day to day farming operations; shattering the old stigma of dairy farming.
Fransisca Vander Meulen (Veldhuis) is passionate about dairy farming and farming as a family.
At two years old Fransisca and her family emigrated from the Netherlands to the United States. Both her parents grew up on dairy farms in Holland. After working on a dairy farm in the United States when he was 18 years old, Jacob, knew there was great opportunity for dairy farming here.
“My parents instilled that in me, that if you work hard you can make it far in life.”
After returning to Holland for a few years, Jacob got married and the couple started a family before moving to America. They eventually settled in Washington where they partnered, and then purchased their own dairy and began building a legacy all their own.
The heritage they’ve built stands firm on the foundation of family values and hard work to this day.
“My parents instilled that in me, that if you work hard you can make it far in life,” she said.
At 4 a.m. every morning before school you would find Fransisca and her siblings out in the barn feeding calves, breaking ice on water tubs, or feeding heifers. She learned a lot from those moments and remembers watching her father work. “I’m very proud of him for what he’s accomplished in his life,” she smiled.
Fransisca can trace her family’s history of dairy farming back to at least the 1800s. Today, along with her husband Mark, their four children, and Fransisca’s siblings and parents, the Veldhuis family farms 2,000 acres of cropland and manages six dairy farms in the Grandview area of Yakima County.
Their children, three boys and a girl, are now the next generation to grow up on a dairy farm and hopefully continue their family’s legacy.
Fransisca attended Dordt College with an animal science major which led her back to the farm. After she graduated her dad asked if she wanted to return to the farm. She managed the dairy alongside her dad for about three years.
After those three years, she wanted a change of pace and to experience a different lifestyle. Looking for something a little more social she spent some time in California. The farm girl at heart still found herself on the farm and managed cow records on a dairy there for several years. While in California she met her husband, who was also from Washington and visiting his sister at the time. His family farmed in Whatcom County.
They started dating and when they were engaged decided they both would move back to Washington. “He didn’t want to live in California and I didn’t want to live in Whatcom County,” she laughed. “He didn’t want to move back to Whatcom either so we decided to move back to the family farm [in Grandview].”
Along with raising four kids, Fransisca says everyone jokes she is the CFO of the farm. She manages a total of eight entities, oversees the financials, and runs all the books. Fransisca works hard behind the scenes to keep everything running smoothly. Being business manager is her full time job on the farm but she still finds the time to be involved in their school, church, and 4-H dairy program with her kids.
It’s no easy feat to run six farms. Fransisca emphasized the importance of the family pitching in as a team and each person having their niche area of focus as a key to their success. The farms are run in a way that keeps everything organized – all dry cows are at one operation while they raise their heifers on another and so forth.
As their farm grew the herd has made a transition of breeds from Holsteins to now primarily Jerseys. “We’re almost 100 percent Jerseys. We started with Holsteins but over time we decided that Jerseys were the better market because of their high butterfat and that they are a stronger animal.” They still have about 20 percent Holsteins and some cross breeds in the herd but are continuing to transition.
“I think what makes our business unique is we are still a family-owned business even though we are so big.”
Fransisca says one of the benefits of being a larger family farm is she sees more opportunity to specialize and focus on areas of expertise in all aspects across the farm. No matter the size of dairy there is opportunity to specialize in practices, however, Fransisca and her family take full advantage of this opportunity. For example, animal care is broad and can be broken down into many details where people are trained for a specific focus – a dairy nutritionist is a great examples of this. “You can focus more on specific items. We have more employees and the opportunity to train them. We have specialists that come to the farm on a regular basis that take care, and focus on the care of our animals.”
“I think what makes our business unique is we are still a family-owned business even though we are so big,” she explained. “My parents, brothers, husband, sister-in-law, and now my oldest son are 100 percent involved.”
She is excited to see their almost-ten-year-old son, Darrin, have a passion for farming too.
“He’d rather work on the farm than go to school,” she laughed.
And so the family tradition continues at Veldhuis Dairies. The family ends each day at the dinner table.
“I love working with the family, being able to see my husband throughout the day and see our kids grow up on the farm,” she said. “It’s a blessing to be able to teach them what hard work is all about… I feel like the family life is very important.”