When Marilyn Calvin’s husband, Kenneth died suddenly six years ago, she was faced with a myriad of decisions, including if she would continue the dream and the work they had started together 40 years before.
“We started with one cow and 10 acres,” she said while seated at her kitchen table in rural Lawrence County, outside of Mount Vernon, Mo. “When we moved here in 1972, we bought the house, 80 acres and increased our herd to five cows.”
Today, she and her son, Kenlee Calvin, and her grandson, Bryce Ogle, run their dairy operation with 203 Holsteins and registered Guernseys, as well as 160 replacement heifers on 500 acres. Through drought, floods and high feed prices, Marilyn has weathered the storms of agricultural in southwest Missouri through the years.
“We do corn silage and haylage, as well as intensive grazing. Five years ago, we started the intensive grazing with 10 paddocks and 10 waterers and right now, we are busy putting in seven more paddocks. We also use TMRs, Total Mixed Rations, to supplement. People sometimes get the impression that if you graze, then you have to do that and only that, but you can do a hybrid system of both, grazing and feed.”
In the recent years, Marilyn has found herself in the remarkable position of being the first and still in some cases, the only woman serving in various positions in the Midwest dairy industry. In 1994, she was first elected to the Southern Division Board of the Mid-America Dairyman during their merger to become Dairy Farmers of America and she is still the only woman serving on DFA’s Southeast Area Council.
She is also the only woman ever elected to the Lawrence County Farm Service Agency Committee, serving three, three-year terms. She is also the first woman inducted into the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives Hall of Fame.
“I’ve always been fortunate to have the support of the dairy farming families in my home district because they know I am here working every day, just like they are. Sometimes, when you are out here, milking and feeding on the farm every day, dairy farmers can get to feeling pretty isolated. Many don’t realize there are people out here working hard to represent them.
“When I introduce myself, I describe myself as a dairy farmer, but the truth is we need more women who can and will participate in dairy farming and in the leadership of this industry. It’s true, you have to be tough but that is true of anybody in any type of farming these days,” she added with a laugh.
“A lot of people seem to think when your husband passes away, the widow’s only choice is to sell the farm and move to town, but there are other factors to consider. The truth is I wasn’t ready to give up all that we’d worked for together. I am fortunate that my son and grandson and I work together, as well as one farm worker, Luis Salas, who has been with us for many years. How many people can say they go to work every day with their family? That’s a real blessing. On the days, when things are hard, I just remember that.”
Marilyn’s work in agriculture has taken her to China in 1987 through Missouri’s Agricultural Leadership of Tomorrow program and to Cuba with the People to People program in 2001.
With all of her work in various facets of the dairy industry, Marilyn emphasized that an important aspect for all to consider is succession planning, as in who will inherit the farm and how will it continue to be run by the family, if that is part of the plan.
“Women especially need to consider, what will happen if they are suddenly widowed, like I was,” she said. “It is so very important for a woman to establish her own line of credit so she can buy that new tractor, piece of equipment or take care of any other issue that may come up. There are lawyers and estate planners who specialize in this.
“There are important lessons here for future generations, both in and out of agriculture. My daughter, Kenda Ogle, is an elementary school teacher, but she and her husband also have a beef cattle operation and then her son works with me. Her daughter, my granddaughter, Lani Ogle, just completed a year as the FFA Area 11 president and is the 2016 Missouri State Fair Queen. She is starting at Crowder College this fall, majoring in animal science. I like to think some of what I’ve done has been an example to both my granddaughters, Lani and Faith Calvin (age 8) that they can do whatever they set out to do in life.”


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