It's a stretch of County Highway CC just south of Belleville and about a mile south of the Dane-Green county line that city folks out for a rural Sunday ride might well see as truly "Wisconsin's Dairyland."
The white barns, tall silos, cows in the field, corn growing in long, straight rows and lush, green lawns bring back memories of visits to grandpa's farm.
Two dairy farms, just south of Belleville, create a country scene worthy of seeing, photographing and remembering.
One, Jeffery-Way Dairy, is owned by Jeff and Kate Hendrickson and is home to their well known registered Holstein herd that has achieved much success in the show ring and in breeding top cattle.
The dairy has been the subject of this column several times over the years.
The other farm - the next one to the south of Jeffery-Way - is the Sonnenburg Family Farm, owned by Tom and Amanda Sonnenburg.
While perhaps less well known in dairy circles, the Sonnenburg herd is working its way up in the registered Holstein world in the show ring and dairy genetics through the efforts of son Ryan.
Readers may have seen the Sonnenburg name in this column a few weeks ago because of their 70-foot-tall silo that decided to lean some 12 feet off-center last fall, right after being filled, to create a local version of the "Leaning tower of Belleville."
Readers will remember that the silo was re-enforced at the bottom and Tom and Ryan Sonnenburg chanced climbing it (successfully) and got the year's supply of corn silage all fed up.
The silo has since been knocked down and a new, but used, structure is rising in its place.
The Sonnenburg Family Farm dates to 1954 when Ken and Sylvia Sonnenburg and their young son Tom and his three sisters moved from Monroe to this location.
They began milking 50 cows on 151 acres of rich Green County land.
"My dad was a dedicated, neat and progressive farmer," Tom says. "My mother always helped milk when us kids were young."
Over the years an addition was made to the barn, the herd increased in numbers to 100 cows and the land base went to 220 acres.
Tom graduated from high school in 1969, attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Farm and Industry Short Course and continued to work on the family farm.
Ken Sonnenburg died in 1981.
Tom and Amanda were married in 1986 and purchased the farm from his mother in 1991. Sylvia died about four years ago at age 87.
Soon after their marriage, Tom had a period of expansion where the dairy herd went to 150 cows.
"We were switching about 50 cows every milking," he says. "But, I realized the herd was too big and we weren't doing well, so we cut back and did better with fewer cows."
Ryan, Adam and Leah joined the family over the years. Both Ryan and Adam are graduates of UW-Platteville (Ryan in 2010, Adam in 2012) and Leah is a junior at UW-LaCrosse.
Ryan Sonnenburg admits that dairy farming has always been his first love and he has been doing just that since his graduation from college. Currently he is managing the 101 milking cows and the young stock and is gaining ownership in some animals.
One of his major efforts is aimed at making the herd an all-registered Holstein herd. He says that it was always a purebred herd, but the papers were not kept up for a period of time.
"We've been buying some cattle at sales and privately," Ryan says "We're about 70 percent registered now."
The Sonnenburgs have been active in the show ring, especially in the Wisconsin Holstein District 12 show that includes Dane, Rock and Green counties. Ryan took four animals to the show a week ago at Monroe and felt they did well by placing animals in the top 10 in a big and competitive show.
"We tied with our neighbors at Jeffery-Way and my friend Kayla Dolan showed the animals," he says. "Kayla is a Dodgeville farm girl who is also a Plattevile animal science graduate and works with Genex Cooperative."
During a tour of the long barn housing 101 cows, Ryan pointed out that they are in the process of converting the stanchions to tie stalls to add to the cow comfort.
"We're doing the change over ourselves - some each year," he says. "It's a matter of removing the stanchion and bolting the tie stall piping to the framework."
The herd has a rolling herd average just under 27,000 pounds with the milk going to Stockton Cheese (owned by Brewster Dairy, the biggest producer of Swiss cheese in America and the site of the first Kraft Cheese plant in 1914) in northern Illinois.
In a recent Holstein classification, their top cow scored 89 (Very Good) and has produced 35,000 pounds of milk in one lactation.
The Sonnenburgs have gone to custom planting of their corn, but do the harvesting themselves with most of the hay and corn going into the four silos.
Kyle Bearden, who was raised on a big California dairy, works as a full-time employee at Sonnenburg Family Farm. In addition, Lori Fahey, Monticello, a professional milker, helps out twice a week and every other weekend.
What about that 20x70-foot silo that tilted last fall?
It's long gone and was replaced by a slightly bigger stave silo from a nearby farm that was taken down and hauled to the Sonnenburg farm in five semi loads.
After about a week of hard work by Tom Zajackowski, owner of Excel Silo Construction and Repair, Amherst, and his employee, John Sullivan, the silo "topped out" on Tuesday. The duo, with Zajackowski laying staves at the top and Sullivan working on the ground, moved the silo upward at about 10 feet a day.
They also had the help of five teenagers representing the Belleville High School wrestling team (making money for a summer training camp) who industriusly chipped mortar off of the used staves.
The silo will easily be ready for this year's corn crop and feed storage for the dairy herd.
What does the future hold for the Sonnenburg family?
Without any doubt, Ryan is planning on a future dairying and has been in charge of the herd management since college graduation.
Adam, a 2012 Platteville grad, who is currently working as a milking equipment technician, would also like to return to the dairy farm.
Dad, still in his early 60s, and mom, who works at MG&E in Madison, are not yet ready to retire.
The family realizes that 100 cows and 220 acres will not support three families long term and there is probably not a lot of land in the area that can be rented or purchased.
On the other hand, the decision as to the future need not be made right away.
It's also a good situation to have rather than the one faced by many families who find themselves with a prosperous family farm and no children to carry it on.
The Sonnenburgs have inspired their sons to love dairying and the strong desire to want to continue.
They can all be most proud - the future is in good hands
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.