Twayne Valley Farm at Blanchardville went out of the cow milking business last Saturday as its 51 milking cows were sold at auction.
No, owners Wayne and Tammy Jeglum were not forced out of business by a big, evil corporate farm, as some anti-expansion groups might portray.
No, they were not in financial difficulty, as is the reason some dairies leave farming.
No, the family did not sell out to a bigger dairy.
No, Wayne and Tammy were not discouraged by the economics, technology or long hours involved in dairy farming.
Yes, the Jeglums sold their cows after a lot of thought and discussion and their conclusion that "it was time for a change." Thus, Twayne Valley Farm along with perhaps another 30-40 Wisconsin dairy farms will not appear on the April list of active dairy farms.
During March, 73 dairy herds went out of business in Wisconsin, bringing the total number of licensed cow herds in the state to 11,023.
"Isn't that terrible," some will say. "Just think of all those families that were forced out of business."
Maybe yes, maybe no - depending on how you look at the continuing loss of dairy farms over the past 75 years in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin was already "America's Dairyland" in 1940 with about 170,000 dairy farms, each with about a dozen milk cows producing an average of less than 8,000 pounds of milk. Farming at the time was hard, physical work: Cows were milked by hand, horse drawn equipment tilled much of the farmland, hay loaders were the preferred haying equipment and oats was shocked and threshed.
Everything about dairy farming has changed since that time when the number of dairy farms was at its peak: Artificial insemination, milking machines, cow health, transportation, technology, consumers - just about everything impacting farm life.
Modern technology gradually worked its way into dairying from the '40s on and the small, dozen cow herds grew big and ever bigger. Every year since has seen fewer dairy farms than the year before to where 2012 began with 11,761 licensed dairy herds and by year end saw a loss of 606 dairies. In the first three months of 2013, another 132 fewer dairies have quit milking.
Twayne Valley Farm
Tammy Jeglum was always the cow milker in the farming family; Wayne was the crop and livestock raiser.
"You mean that Tammy milked those cows twice a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year," some will ask?
Yes and in her words, "I loved it." "Wayne loves his crops, I loved my cows," Tammy says. "This has worked out all the years (since 1986) we've been farming."
Note: If you think that this is an unusual arrangement, you haven't been around the dairy farming business very long or haven't been paying attention. Many of Wisconsin's progressive dairy herds are managed, and or, milked by women. Many with dairy science degrees, years of experience and some out of necessity, but all with a true love of dairy animals.
"At one time we were up to 90 milking cows," Wayne says. "This was when our two daughters were home on the farm."
A couple of years ago Tammy was tossed over a cattle feeder by a bull. "I think I was knocked out for a bit," she remembers. "I got up and continued my chores but later found out I had a herniated disk in my neck requiring major surgery. This slowed me down physically and had a lot to do with our decision to quit milking. And, no, we probably shouldn't have been using a bull for our breeding."
The auction advertisement that ran in the Wisconsin State Farmer notes that "the herd are all young cows with good udders and sound feet and legs ... milked in a stall barn and are fed outside daily ... annual quality milk awards are received and milk tank SCC runs 100,000-135,000 ... this has been a very successful operation and the conditions are very clean. "
I called auctioneer Bill Stade of The Bill Stade Auction Company, Sharon, and asked if it would be a good auction to attend.
"Yes," was his reply. The Jeglums have worked hard and have a nice dairy farm," he replied. "This is not a financially forced sale as many these days are, they decided to change their farming operation and now seemed to be the right time to do it."
Saturday was cold, windy and miserable with rain in the air - a perfect day for a dairy auction. The dairy dispersal right on the farm was a bit unusual these days: Many dairy herds are being sold at sales barns these days or being bought by large herds in entirety.
The crowd was a lot bigger than expected and bidding satisfied the Jeglums, auctioneer Stade and the buyers with prices ranging from $1650 for top cows early in their lactation and down in the lower $1,000 range for cows in the latter part of their milking cycle.
As always farm auctions draw a lot of lookers and talkers, including me, trying to find out the state of the dairy economy.
Roger Hull, Rock City, IL, was high bidder on a half dozen cows. "We expanded our dairy from a 550 cow stanchion barn to a 200 cow freestall with a parlor," Hull explained. "We need a few cows to fill in."
He introduced me to his 19-year-old son Preston, who has joined the family farm full time and is part of the reason for the herd expansion.
A couple of young farmers who buy most of their cattle feed were less than confident of their dairy futures. "I can't continue milking if feed prices stay so high," one said. "I want to stay milking, but ..."
Several dairymen with small 40 dairy herds said they don't like the bigger, expanded dairy herds. "We were better off when the dairy herds were all smaller," a farmer from Monroe says.
"How small," I asked?
As always this question is a stopper - there is no answer.
The Jeglum's two daughters were at the dispersal, both have their own lives and families: Diane Schlafli and her husband Brian and their three children live at Argyle and Stephanie and husband Travis Holmes and their three children are also at Argyle and a part of Holmesville Dairy LLC.
The fact that the Jeglums have no children aiming to be the next generation on the farm was another factor in their decision to sell the cows.
What next for Wayne and Tammy Jeglum?
The 650 owned and rented acres will continue to be farmed. "Wayne loves his crops," Tammy says. "He can't wait to get into the field." "We're planning to start a beef herd," Wayne says. "That's something I always wanted to do and we may do some heifer raising."
Tammy summarizes: "Cows have worked for us for a long time and we have no regrets and we are still young, now it's on to a new form of farming. We look forward to it."
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.