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Wisconsin family moves from the classroom back to the dairy barn

Rick and Gwen Dado left successful careers in education to get into the business of milking cows and raising their family at Four Hands Holsteins in Amery, WI.

AMERY, Wisconsin — In this week’s Tales from America’s Dairyland, we hear about the unique full-circle journey of a Wisconsin family and how they went from the farm to the classroom and back to farm to raise a family.

Rick and Gwen Dado grew up on farms. Rick went on to earn a Ph.D. in dairy science and taught university courses while Gwen earned multiple degrees and taught high school agriculture. Both enjoyed sharing their passion for ag with students, but there were many headaches involved in being part of a higher education department.

It caught up with them in their mid-30s when they quit their successful careers, packed up their four kids and moved to Gwen’s family farm in Amery, Wisconsin.

“We started when we were 36, so we were kind of mid-age when we started this," said Rick, looking back on their decision, "knowing that it was going to be physically, mentally and also financially challenging.”

The transition from teaching to working the land at Four Hands Holsteins in Amery was such a success that seven years later, in 2007, they bought the farm from Gwen’s parents. The Dado family has doubled the number of acres farmed and grown from 125 to 450 milking cows. The couple has incorporated their education and background to enhance cow comfort, performance, and productivity, and the 16 hour days haven't gotten to Rick yet. “One of the things I enjoy about our current size is I get to use my hands and I get to get into the meat of the work here personally,” he said.

It's been 21 years since changing careers and taking on dairy farming, and Gwen says the importance of family and farming is reflected in Four Hands Holsteins brand. “Looking back in history, "hands" use to be the employees and so we looked at the fact that we had four children and that they were our four hands,” she said. 

Farming continues in the bloodlines of the next generation. All four children, Bethany, Ethan, Trent and Meikah are in their 20s and pursuing careers in agriculture. Gwen is extremely proud of their decision.

“It’s a good reflection back on what happened on this farm with them growing up," Gwen said.  

Rick feels it’s a reflection of the importance of farming to the community, saying “If you look at the total people who are employed in agriculture, especially in Wisconsin, you’re talking of a number of almost one out of five.”

Respecting the land, hard work and family tradition paying dividends for the Dado’s. “We are extremely happy and filled with gratitude that we’ve been given the opportunity to be able to make a living at this, to raise a great family, have community involvement and support in what we do. We really couldn’t ask for anything more.”

More Tales from America's Dairyland: 

Brickfield Brewing is a growing success in small town Wisconsin

Meet the first female shot-caller on a fifth generation Wisconsin dairy farm