Cover girl Heidi Blanken turned in her heels for heifers when she became a dairy-farm wife.
In Heidi Blanken’s 24/7 life as a dairy-farm wife and mother, something’s got to give. On her family’s 80 acres near Sedro-Woolley, Washington, it’s a whole herd of generous Jerseys.
“Having grown up a city girl, I was secretly afraid of the cows when Derek and I started -farming—they just seemed so big!” Heidi says with a smile. “Now rounding them up from the field is second nature to me. I can’t think of a more beautiful, gentle animal.”
Her path to the dairy barn can be traced to her husband’s boyhood, spent helping his father with milking. “It was Derek’s dream to own a dairy,” she recalls. “So five years ago, we agreed it was time to take the risk. The idea of being our own bosses was appealing. And we both love working outside, close to God and the world He created.”
Their place is practically surrounded by the snowcapped mountains of the North Cascade Range, with fertile land for growing their grass silage and natural grazing pasture.
Lights in the Blankens’ milking parlor begin glowing well before sunrise. Derek is off to tend their 100 cows, while Heidi balances the farm bookkeeping with house and garden work and raising two young sons. After fixing a home-cooked meal for her brood, she feeds the mooing mouths in the calf pens. “Being a country mom’s a job I can’t seem to get enough of,” she says.
“I feel proud watching our heifers grow up strong to join our milking herd. In a typical year, our Jerseys produce 1.3 million pounds of milk that’s especially rich in butterfat and protein. We belong to a co-op that packages and distributes dairy products nationwide. That frees us to do what we do best—milk cows.”
Their 65 Grade A milk cows have won the Blankens recognition, including the National Dairy Quality Award for farms that provide their herds a healthy, stress-free environment. “Derek can read each animal’s behavior and signals so well,” Heidi says, that it’s not surprising a new generation is following in his footsteps.
“Farm life is wonderful for our kids,” she notes. “Jacob, who’s 6, likes nothing better than helping with chores and asking how everything works. And Landon, who’s 3, is his dad’s shadow. Tractors and the milk pickup tanker fascinate them both.”
The Blankens milk twice a day, every day, Heidi says, pointing to the double-five milking parlor, which accommodates five cows per side.
“Cows don’t take days off, so we don’t have typical family vacations,” she explains. “Still, we find fun in simple things like driving to town for parts, or slipping off for an afternoon at the beach.
“And the boys do their part supporting our product. They go through gallons of milk every week, not to mention yogurt, cheese, pudding and smoothies.”
In an era when many think bigger is better, Heidi and Derek are happily bucking the trend. “Young people need to carry on the tradition of the small family farm,” she says. “By sharing the experience with our children, I hope we’ll help the industry keep growing.
Sometimes Heidi imagines what it might be like to swap jeans and work boots for a tailored suit and heels. “But it’s not long before I realize I wouldn’t trade what I have for the world,” she concludes. “Dairy farming isn’t a job, it’s a way of life. You have to love it to do it well—and we do.”
Photography by Jim Wieland & Styling by Melissa Haberman