Leading the Herd
FFA student Jordan Beyler doesn’t have any farm animals of her own, but she’ll still have a chance to show cattle because of the help she gets from a local farmer who’s been mentoring kids like her for about a decade.
Beyler is among countless other youth who have been able to get hands-on experience with showing cattle because of help from the Caine family of Fitchburg.
Local farmers since the 1940s and business owners since 1955, Jeanne and Tom Caine laid a foundation in community service and farming for their son Pat, 47, to continue having kids come out to the farm.
“We’ve all always been into the cattle,” Jeanne said.
Pat, a Fitchburg native living on Byrne Road, and his family are what people might picture when they think of a typical Wisconsin dairy farm family. With his parents nearby, Pat lives at the fifth-generation dairy operation with a two-story farm house.
Many in the Fitchburg-Oregon agricultural community are already familiar with the “Caine” name (as in Caine Road off Hwy. M), which comes with history and respect, and Pat’s dedication to local youth carries on that tradition. His work represents rural values that can sometimes be forgotten in a big city filled with sprawling urban growth and economic development.
With Pat’s parents owning a local tack shop, Caine’s, that sells goods for horses, the 1985 graduate of Oregon High School grew up showing horses. His parents still have photos of him showing in grade school up on their wall at the shop.
As the middle child of three kids, Pat would eventually become the main caretaker of the herd, which includes about 40 main milking cows, allowing him to become the skilled in everything about cattle.
Learning, growing and caring for farm animals are values Pat aims to pass on to younger generations.
His farming experience, education, including a 1988 farming and industry associate degree at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and passion for the animals has led him to allow youth, from ages 8 or 9 to high school, to show his herd, which has a total of 112 Brown Swiss cattle.
It’s something he learned to enjoy through watching his parents Tom, 81, and Jeanne, 80, as 4H leaders when he was a kid.
But Pat said his teachings go beyond showing cattle. He wants students to know how to care for their animal thoroughly – from ensuring a proper diet to how to groom it – and he watches as they build a bond that goes beyond simply using the cattle to win fair competitions. His goal is for them to also learn sound animal care, cultivation and breeding from the start of a calf’s life.
Pat’s dedication to teaching kids about cattle is part of what makes him an “amazing teacher,” said Becki Clark, parent of Baily Clark, who’s shown with Caine for nearly three years.
“He’s constantly telling them what’s going on with the calf,” she said. “All the ins and outs about ‘This is how it’s born, and this is how it eats.’ The kids are extremely comfortable with him and have a great time.”
Though it’s not uncommon for local kids who are growing up in the suburbs to find a farm that lets them use their animals for showing, said Becki, Pat’s flexibility in working with the kids’ schedule and always being willing to answer their questions makes him an invaluable mentor.
Parent Pam Beyler said Caine is always willing to work around her daughter’s schedule. Jordan, an OHS sophomore is showing cattle with Caine for the first time, and her younger sister Caitlin, who’s been showing with Caine for nearly three years, will reach out weekly to come out to the farm.
“They just call him up, and he says, “Yeah, come on over to the farm,” Pam said.
Beyler and Clark agreed Caine’s students adore him. Oregon FFA adviser Jillian Beaty, who spoke with the Star last week, added that a group he mentored last year even made T-shirts in his honor that read “Team Caine.”
They also agreed that Caine is the last person who would want to receive any recognition for the time he spends teaching the kids.
“He says he’ll do it as long as kids want to show,” Becki said.
A coach and teacher
The students show their cattle at the Stoughton Junior Fair, World Dairy Expo and Dane County and state fairs.
Caine’s teaching is “hands-on,” said Becki, meaning he’ll walk with the student to illustrate how to show the animal as well as care for it. And he invites them to come learn on their own time. For example, the Clark family went out to the 300-acre farm on a Saturday in March to see one of the new calves being born.
Typically, Caine works with about eight to 10 kids weekly and helps out during competition time, too. Caine provides the transportation for animals to the fair while the families pay for items like hay bales for the cattle.
Even though he works full time on a dairy farm with one farm hand and helps out his parents, Caine still finds the time to make each competition.
“During fair time, Pat is there as soon as he’s done milking his cows to 11 p.m. at night,” said Becki Clark.
Even though Caine has been working with kids for years, the process to get started is pretty informal.
There’s no application process. The kids start working with him by simply asking.
“Whoever wants to show … they can,” Caine said.
Most hear about his mentoring through word of mouth or because their parents know him through growing up in the Oregon-Fitchburg area. Kids have to have a certain amount of education “points” or credits built up in their respective organizations to ensure they are familiar with the animal and its needs before they can begin.
When asked how much time he spends working with the kids, he said it was hard for him to estimate that because “it’s not about time.”
“You know, the way I look at it, it’s great for the kids to do this,” he told the Star. “It’s a good way to introduce some of the farm practices … for kids that don’t have the opportunity to work with cattle.”
Caine’s mother, Jeanne, recalls their family first started to show animals in the Stoughton Junior Fair around 1947, and said she isn’t surprised her son has continued to work with youth as long as he has.
“He does it because the kids want to show,” she said.
In addition to the educational value, Pat insists having fun and being safe are his priorities for the students. For the most part, he said, they are dedicated, and he’s never had a safety or behavioral issue.
“Throughout the years, I’ve worked with some of the best kids and some of the best parents that you could ever ask for,” he said.
Although Caine doesn’t have kids of his own, Becki Clark said he loves his cattle as he would his children. The kids pick up on the strong bonds he has with his herd.
“You develop a relationship,” Caine said. “My own cows have got individual personalities. I treat them as individuals, not as a group.”
Letting the kids name the cattle – yes, they all have names and Pat knows each one by heart – helps nurture that bond so they “make friends,” with the animal they work with, Caine said. Caitlin Beyler will again show the same animal she did a year ago, a winter yearling heifer she named “Munch.”
Beaty describes him as an “open and caring” person who has been involved with Oregon FFA for a long time and who has enriched the area with his efforts and who also has won the FFA’s annual Outstanding Family Farm Award in 2013.
“He’s just such an asset to the community,” she said. “(He’s someone who) we all love.”
Jeanne said Pat’s work with the kids “is a lot of fun” but it doesn’t just benefit the community.
“It’s been a great thing for both him and the kids,” she said. “For all of us really, I should say.”