Fort Morgan dairy farmer Mary Kraft nears end of her term as first female president of Colorado Livestock Association
Colorado Livestock Association
In April, Mary Kraft will step down from her post as the president of the Colorado Livestock Association. The livestock association deals with the proteins: pork, beef and lamb. This year, the CLA Annual Meeting will be held April 13-14 in Loveland at the Embassy Suites. To register, visit coloradolivestock.org.
When Mary Kraft left her parents’ dairy farm near Brighton for college at 18 years old, she did so with the intent of getting off the farm.
She loved growing up on a dairy farm and even said she had a great childhood, but it was always a struggle of balancing work and play.
“I had my own milking shift from midnight to 6 a.m. from the time I was 11,” Kraft said, but she’s been milking since she was 7 years old.
It sounds like a crazy decision for a preteen, but she chose the late shift so she’d have time to ride horses and pursue other interests after school.
Kraft always has filled her days like that — full to the brim.
“If I can I’ve got two days squeezed into every one,” she said. “I think it’s also my personality.”
On top of working on her dairy every day, Kraft works with many groups, including the hospital board in Fort Morgan, the economic development board and she is just about to wrap up her term as the first female president of the Colorado Livestock Association.
She said the experience from being CLA president and working with the farmers who raise the world’s protein has been wonderful. It’s good to work with people who share the same values, she said.
As a teenager, she never would have thought she’d be the first female president of the livestock association.
When she left for Colorado State University, Kraft thought she left that life behind her, but she met her husband Chris at CSU, who brought her back to the dairy life.
“He really liked cows,” she said. “Whatever he wanted to do, I was interested in doing it with him as a partnership.”
She admits she had originally joined the CSU polo club thinking she might meet some rich men. Instead, she met Chris in the club, who she suspects joined in the hopes that women would think he was a catch.
They were married just a few months later. When Kraft celebrated her 21st birthday, it was on her very own 250-cow dairy. That was in 1988.
The couple still lives on the dairy operation in Fort Morgan 25 years later. It now milks about 5,500 cows each day.
Despite the fact that she was ready to reject the dairy life when she was younger, she now runs her own operation with some of the same principles she learned in those early days in the barn.
Past and Present
As a fourth-generation dairy farmer, Kraft had more experience in a dairy barn at 25 years old than a lot of middle-age farmers have.
She had a head start — thanks to her parents. They not only gave her and Chris 150 starter cows, but they also taught Kraft about the industry from a young age.
She thinks those early years running the dairy barn helped shape her natural inclination to be responsible, to be organized and to fill her days with what she loves.
“I had parents that let me go be in charge of myself, and they trusted me to be in charge of all their livestock,” she said, referring to the dairy cows she took care of as a child. “I think that sent quite a message to me about my responsibility meter — how much they were willing to let me do. To me it was quite an honor that my parents thought I was a responsible enough kid that I could handle that.”
Anyone who’s milked cows before knows it’s a science, and there’s a lot of profit to be lost if it’s not done right.
“In terms of the dairy barn and being in charge of it, a cow is worth $1,500, so if you have people who don’t do a good job at harvesting the milk, you’ve lost your asset.”
Kraft even learned Spanish to make sure her employees understand what is expected of them.
Kraft employs 75 people, only five of whom are native English speakers. She and Chris spent a few weeks in South America in a program that offers full immersion in Spanish speaking homes to learn the language.
They did so to break down language barriers on the farm.
“I think language is often a communications barrier,” she said. “You have to work very hard at building a strong management team.”
It’s also a love for her operation, a determination to do it right and to have a properly trained staff.
Kraft said she lives by a philosophy she learned from the Veggie Tales cartoon Barbra Manatee: “For the good of all.”
She worries about what’s best for the good of her employees, her cows, her family and her community.
Kraft said she is focused on making her community better and having a good community to live in, which is something she learned from both her upbringing, and her husband. That’s why she does as much as she can to make the community a good place to live.
She has sat on the economic development board in Fort Morgan, on the hospital board, on the Adult Basic Literacy board. She works with Common Ground, a women-centric organization that teaches people where their food comes from and connects city residents to the farm.
Kraft is finishing up her two-year tenure as the president of the Colorado Livestock Association. She was the first female to hold the title and in April, she’ll hand over the reigns.
“It’s a fun group to work with because they all have like moral compasses,” she said.
Kraft said she’s enjoyed working with farmers who all see the world similarly and who all work hard to provide food for the world.
“Often times ag is not noticed because it’s so low profile,” she said. “But we’re a huge part of the fabric that makes everything else go forward.”
Kraft said she has never questioned her decision to come back to the dairy life. She loves teaching people about where their food comes from and why agriculture is important.
“Most people are several generations removed from the farm,” she said. But, “I think everybody who eats is involved in agriculture.” ❖
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