Dairy Mom Performs Daily Juggling Act

5/18/2013 7:00 AM

Chris Torres

Staff Writer

LOYSVILLE, Pa. — Travel down the Tuscarora Path in this picturesque corner of Perry County and you might see Vance Kretzing hard at work, traveling between the buildings of his 290-cow dairy farm, Kretz H Farms.

A little further down the road, in the farmhouse, Vance’s wife, Amy, is busy washing the dishes after breakfast.

It’s like she has eyes in the back of her head, keeping track of the four kids in the house; Luke and Lila, 5, Vanessa, 3 and Jonathan, 16 months.

“Put everything back,” she tells Jonathan, who has managed to wiggle his tiny frame between his mom’s legs to get after the Tupperware in the bottom cupboard.

“My wind down time is when they go to bed. They usually go to bed at the same time. I don’t have much wind down time,” she said.

Sounds like she has a lot on her plate, but it’s actually an easy day. Three days a week, Amy is busy feeding calves, with her kids right alongside her. Although most of the time they play on the hay bales and try to lose themselves in the barns.

Many farm women can relate. A stay-at-home mom who also happens to play a crucial role in the farm operation.

But it’s been a tough road for Amy Kretzing and her family over the years, having to deal with the pain of infertility issues, a tough farm transition from the older generation to the next, and of course, the ups and downs of the dairy business.

Amy grew up just up the street from the current farmhouse, located just outside of Loysville.

Her family milked dairy cows and later had a beef herd, but they abandoned the business, she said, after a barn collapse in the mid 1970s.

After graduating from West Perry High School, she attended college and earned a teaching degree. She got a job at the nearby Loysville Youth Development Center, a detention center.

“My plan was to have kids and keep working away,” she said.

Amy married Vance Kretzing on Sept. 21, 1996.

Vance Kretzing actually grew up down the street from Amy, but the two never hit it off until they started seeing each other in church.

Vance Kretzing, along with his brother, Allen, have been involved in the family dairy business their whole life.

Several years after they married, Amy and Vance Kretzing decided they wanted to have kids. They soon found out they were dealing with infertility issues.

The couple decided to see a specialist at the Hershey Medical Center. At the same time, they also had to juggle their responsibilities on the farm, getting up extra early in the morning to get half of the milking done and then going to the hospital afterward.

“When we started to do all of this, we didn’t tell anybody,” Amy Kretzing said. “That put a lot of stress between his mom and brother and us. But it was just one of those things we didn’t feel comfortable talking to them about.”

After three years of trying to have kids via artificial insemination, the couple seemingly gave up.

“The hospital just told us to give up, you’re not going to have kids,” she said.

But they didn’t give up quite yet. In 2000, the couple started seeing doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. They decided to try in-vitro fertilization.

She miscarried the first two times.

“I learned you don’t tell people you’re pregnant until later. Because we found out we were pregnant, we told everybody. It went out in the Christmas cards,” she said. “Good news travels fast. The bad news, by Christmastime, I had miscarried. That was really hard.”

With no hope in sight, in 2003 the couple traveled to California to adopt a daughter, whom they named Sarah.

But something happened soon after they adopted Sarah. Amy’s third attempt at having a baby in-vitro ended up working. She ended up calling her Hannah.

They ended up having three more kids via in-vitro; Ben, who is now 8, and Luke and Lila, twins, who are now 5. Amy and Vance Kretzing had a full fledged family.

She gave up teaching and decided to stay on the farm full time.

“I chose to stay home because I knew there was work to do here,” she said.

Three days a week, Amy Kretzing feeds the calves and occasionally helps out with the milkings.

All told, the farm has 290 cows and about the same number of replacement heifers, The farm’s rolling herd average is 21,000 and the milk is marketed to Land O’ Lakes.

Vance Kretzing and his brother, Allen Kretzing, farm 600 acres. But the calves stay at the 200-acre home farm.

“Newborns are started in a feed room for a couple of days and then they are loose,” Amy Kretzing said.

The calves are fed pasteurized waste milk.

Vance Kretzing appreciates his wife’s work. He said it’s enabled him and his brother to not have to buy replacement heifers and keep a closed herd on the farm. “It’s crucial what she does,” he said. “She does a good job keeping paperwork together. It’s important what she does.”

Mornings are hectic those three times a week, especially during school, when Amy Kretzing has to get four kids on the bus for school. She then goes out to the calf barn to start work.

In the evenings, she starts feeding between 6 and 6:30 p.m. “So the timing isn’t the greatest because until I get done, the kids should be in bed and that doesn’t always work out,” she said.

The calves are moved between a series of calf condos, which have a total of 30 stalls between them.

The family also uses an older chicken house that’s been converted into a larger calf condo, with a several small pens for a couple of calves and a larger pen with room for seven calves.

The idea behind it, she said, is to make transitioning between housing less stressful on the animals.

Of course she can’t forget about tending to the house.

“I pretty much do everything pertaining to the house,” she said.

Vance Kretzing’s mother, Adelaide, handles the farm finances while his father, Perry, is also involved in the business, occasionally planting crops.

The farm was incorporated in 1998. It was a rocky transition between Vance and Allen Kretzing and their parents.

“It was ugly there for quite a while,” Amy Kretzing said, adding that it took several years for Perry Kretzing to be convinced transitioning the farm was in the family’s best interest.

Vance and Allen Kretzing split the duties on the farm, with Allen Kretzing in charge of feeding and Vance Kretzing helping out with tending to the cows and also field work.

The brothers have three employees, two of them Hispanics, that do the daily milkings.

Like most dairy farmers, the family has had to deal with the constant roller coaster of milk prices.

On top of that, they’ve also had to deal with several personal tragedies.

Allen Kretzing’s only son, Dylan, who was autistic, passed away in a tragic accident several years ago.

And Amy and Vance Kretzing are still dealing with fertility issues, even though they ended up having two more children, Vanessa, 3 and Jonathan, 16 months, naturally.

In February, the couple experienced yet another miscarriage.

The pain of having even one miscarriage never leaves Amy Kretzing, even though she’s beaten the odds and has been able to carry six kids.

“For me, I would say every single time I heard someone was pregnant, I cried. And I still do sometimes. Because the pain never goes away,” she said.

The stress may be too much for some to handle, but Amy Kretzing said the fact they have had good role models in their parents — Vance Kretzing’s parents have been together for 54 years and Amy Kretzing’s parents, 46 years — helps them put things in perspective.

“So we’ve had good role models. We’ve grown up with two sets of parents that stayed together and persevered through everything,” she said. “So that’s been something that keeps us going.”<\c> LF20130518_kreitzing-01-05

1. Lila Kretzing, 5, teases a calf during a recent morning on the farm.

2. 3. Amy Kretzing and her husband, Vance, have had to deal with infertility issues over the years. One of her daughters, Vanessa, 3, was born naturally.

4. Amy is in charge of tending to the calves on the family farm.

5. The calves rotate between a series of calf condos.

Does milk have a lot of untapped potential in today’s competitive beverage market?

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