When she saw the ad asking for nominations for Farm Forum’s Farming Father, Darci Zens-Martinmaas knew she had to enter her husband’s name. “My husband is the best dad I know.” Receiving the notice that he’d been chosen affirmed her belief. She wrote, “He is the most patient dad; he always has some of our kids ranging from 3 to 14 out with him. He teaches them and has trust and faith in them!”
Bill Martinmaas of Orient was chosen as one of Farm Forum’s Farming Fathers for 2020. In a normal year, the Farm Forum staff would take dinner to the family and friends in the field. Photos would be taken and a story would detail why Bill was chosen. With the COVID-19 precautions, this year the family received a gift certificate and provided the Farm Forum with photos and interviews.
With eight youngsters actively helping on the farm, a visitor might think it was chaotic. There is a lot of well-planned activity and they love every moment of it. Bill said, “This morning we had three crews going: I planted hay millet; another child was rock rolling with his brother and a third one raked hay with a sibling. Darci drove one to the orthodontist. That’s a typical day.”
Darci explained that she grew up in the city so living on the farm was an adjustment for her. “I could see that Bill loves what he does and this is where he needs to be. We wanted a large family. Now that we have one, I can’t imagine living in town.”
As far as why he’s a great dad, Darci said, “Bill takes time to show the kids how to do things. They have the freedom to go into the shop and build things like bike ramps. They learn by trying and making mistakes.”
Modestly, Bill said he tries to do his best when raising his family. “I generally have one child in the tractor with me; sometimes I have 6. It all depends on the day and the field.”
“This is what they know, this is what we do all the time,” Bill said. “Later this afternoon, we will take all the kids and pull CIDRs (Controlled Internal Drug Release) from the cows. Our son Max will miss baseball, but that doesn’t bother him as he knows this work has to get done. That is the way it is.”
Bill said, “I can only teach them so much, they have to want it themselves. Once I show them, they own the responsibility for doing the chore. I don’t watch over the top of them. They accomplish the job themselves and take pride in figuring out stuff themselves.”
There have been some trying times. When Darci was pregnant with the triplets, she was on bedrest for months and then the three boys were born prematurely at 28 weeks. The boys lived in the neonatal intensive care unit at Sanford for roughly 90 days. Bill said it was hard to have the family split between the hospital and the farm. “That was tough. It was a roller coaster with steps forward and steps backward. I’ve very glad the NICU is there but I don’t want to go back there.”
Even when she told Bill they were having triplets, Darci said Bill never lost his composure. He just told her, “It is what it is. There is no use in fretting over what can’t be changed. We will get through this.”
Having that experience behind them, the family knows they can handle anything. The fraternal triplets have flourished and are now 6 years old, totally different from each other and full of energy and passion for farm life.
Darci said, “Bill never raises his voice at the kids or at me. I tend to get upset; he rolls with every punch. He’s the calm to my crazy.” She shared, “One night we were in bed and heard cattle bellowing; it sounded like they were right outside our window. Sure enough, the cattle were in the yard. Bill didn’t blame anyone for leaving a gate open, he just said, ‘It could have been any of us.’ He got the kids up and put the cows in. That was that. No matter what happens, it never is a big deal.”
They learn what to do at a young age. Max, 9, learned what to look for when checking cattle. Darci said, “When I’m checking cows with him, he’ll tell me, ‘Look at her, she’s going to calve,’ or ‘She’s got a bad bag, we need to watch her.’ Those are signs I’ll never be able to read.”
Bill delegates and the family goes in many different directions to take care of farm work. With that, Darci said, “I know where everyone is at each day. We preach safety to the kids a lot and make every effort to make sure the kids are safe and following the right way to do things. He’s there to back them up if they don’t know what to do.”
Bill makes a very conscious effort to be a very involved dad. Most years, the daily schedules are full as the kids play sports and are involved in school activities. Bill makes time to go to the events. Sometimes that means he’s getting up at 2:30 a.m. so he can get work done so he can be attend a cross country meet or game later in the day.
Emma, 12, said, “My dad makes me feel good at home and at school. He always is there; if I ask him a question, he has a good answer. I know I can always count on my parents to know what to do.”
When trying to get the crew to wake up in the morning, Emma said her dad does amusing stuff. “He always has so much energy in the morning and he’ll say something goofy that makes us laugh and get us moving.”
She knows her dad respects her opinion. “I have bottle calves. One cow lost her calf and we gave one of the bottle calves to her. When checking the cows later, I told my dad, ‘that calf is going to die, we have to bring her in and start bottle feeding her again.’ He agreed; I’m feeding her again and she’s doing fine.”
“He’s just the best dad,” she said.
Max, 9, shared, “When I struggle with something, he helps me. When I’m trying to open a gate, he does it for me and then shows me how I can get it the next time. At night, I ask him what we are going to do the next day and he tells me. That makes me feel important.”
Micah, 14, said her dad always puts the kids first.
“When we are out checking cows, he’ll have us drive the 4-wheelers and he’ll walk. When we are learning something, he walks us through it step by step, and never yells at us for doing something wrong. He always tells us, keep on trying even if you don’t get it right the first time. Sometimes, he and I go out for a ride, just the two of us away from everyone else. I really like that one-on-one time with him.”
Farming is the family business and Max plans to do what his dad has done, raising corn and soybeans, running Black Angus and Piedmontese.
As far as a memory from when he grew up, Bill said, “When I was a little kid, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, take my pillow and blanket, and sleep on the floor next to my parent’s bed where they would have to step on me when they woke up. I didn’t want to get left behind when they went to do chores. I was ready to go.”
“I’ve never considered doing anything else,” Bill said. He went to Lake Area Technical school for ag business. “I did some different jobs, like framing houses in Sioux falls for a year. I did some excavating and directional boring in Aberdeen for a summer. I wanted to experience life away from the farm but my heart was always back here.”
“You can’t farm or ranch for today. You have long term commitments and have to look at the big picture. You have to look to see what’s coming later. You are always hoping things will get better while you are working towards the future. I think there is going to be a fair amount of opportunity at the end of this current crisis. When it will turn around is still a big question.”
What makes Bill the happiest? He said, “I enjoy being able to work with the kids. They are part of what I do every day.”
Bill told Darci, “At the end of our life, if the kids turn out OK, then we’ve done our job and raised them right.” Darci agrees and said, “I like his mentality.”