In the family way: Raising a daughter and 1,400 cows like her parents did before her

By Sarah Sakurazawa

June 15, 2023

Wearing tall XTRATUF boots and carrying a clipboard, herdswoman Jana DeHaan strides along with veterinarian Jacob Steiger as he examines dozens of cows in a wide-beamed barn – all with five-month-old Kinleigh snugged on her chest in a baby carrier. 

“It’s how my mom raised me,” says this third-generation farmer, beaming down at her firstborn. 

During this weekly “vet check,” DeHaan and Steiger walk through the entire herd of 700 Holsteins and Jerseys at Heritage Dairy in Everson, Washington, to assess their overall health. As they go, Steiger more closely examines anywhere from 50 to 100 cows that he’s been following or that the farmer wants him to monitor. 

As Steiger rapid-fires observations for each cow, DeHaan jots down its pregnancy details. Steiger palpates the cow’s uterus and uses a portable ultrasound scanner to determine where it is in its gestation stage and if it’s carrying a bull calf — it’s a boy! — or a heifer calf – it’s a girl! While they work, the cows munch on TMR, or total mixed ration, a specially designed combination of nutrient-rich grains, hay, alfalfa, grass and feed supplements such as whey. 

On a warm September morning, 26-year-old DeHaan took a break to talk about her love for her work, her hopes for her daughter, and what her father taught her.

Name: Jana DeHaan 

1,450: Total number of cows in her care. 700 at Heritage Dairy, 300 at Bel-Lyn Farms and 450 at Paradise Jerseys, all owned by her family.

Family ways: “We were born and raised in this. As soon as we could walk, we were tagging along with our dad, running around on the farm.”

1978: When her grandfather Arlyn Plagerman founded Bel-Lyn Farms in Lynden, Wash. Her father, Leroy Plagerman, now runs the operation. 

Listen to dairy farmer Jana DeHaan tell about a tough lesson her father helped her learn. 

Note: She mentions a tractor’s PTO, which is a short shaft called a power take-off that connects the tractor to farm machinery.

Produced by Sarah Sakurazawa

Music: “Opal,” written and performed by Drew Fichette

Mom knew best: DeHaan explains her mother, Rhonda Plagerman, home-schooled her children on the family farm, as well as “helping chase cows back in if they got out. She always brought out food if we were stuck on a tractor” finishing up a long day, she recalls. 

12: Number of kids in the Plagerman family. DeHaan is the fifth of the dozen and the oldest daughter. 

‘With our dad’: “Mom would often send us out with our dad — riding in the tractor with him, helping feed the heifers. I remember being so small I’d have to run to keep up with him with his long legs walking!” she laughs. 

‘The best way to learn’: “Growing up in it is the best way to learn” farming, says DeHaan. “Looking back on my childhood, I couldn’t imagine a better way to grow up, playing hay forts, playing tag, watching calves being born. It was a really special way to grow up, having all the land to grow up on, riding our horses around our land.”

I learned everything from my dad’: DeHaan prized most what she learned from her parents but also enrolled in the Running Start program during high school, earning an associate degree from Whatcom Community College in arts and sciences. She says she also worked milking for local farmer Debbie VanderVeen. 

‘It’s in your blood’: “You have to love it to do it. When you really love it like we do there’s nothing else you can imagine doing.”

“To have the opportunity to grow up on a farm will be a huge advantage and blessing in her life.”

Above and beyond: DeHaan served as the 2015-2016 Whatcom County Dairy Ambassador and as the 2016-2017 Washington State Alternate Ambassador. Her sister Jewel Plagerman was the 2020-2021 Whatcom County Dairy Ambassador. 

Changing times: “We all started working on the farm, but quite a few of us have left the dairy,” says DeHaan. Her older brother Layton and younger sister Jewel work in the family business. 

Different path: DeHaan’s husband, Mason, grew up working on Stormhaaven Farm and at Ronelee Farms in Lynden, Washington. Currently, he’s an HVAC technician. 

“He misses the work,” says DeHaan. “He really enjoyed working on the dairy, but unless you own it there’s not a lot of money in it, you have to really be in deep to make a career of it.”

Moving forward: “We hope to pass it on to a future generation,” says DeHaan as Kinleigh coos at a cow. “She already enjoys tagging along with me.”

Growth pattern: “If she wants to go into farming, to have the opportunity to grow up on a farm will be a huge advantage and blessing in her life.”

Motherhood modifications: “For sure, I’m not jumping over gates or crawling through headlocks any more like I used to!” DeHaan says her mother will watch Kinleigh more as she gets bigger. 

“It’s been really fun as she’s getting older and watching her interact with the cows and try to feed them. To see the farm and the world through a child’s eye is really neat — the wonder of a cow, it brings it all back.”