Newton farm gets sesquicentennial designation
Hill-Line Dairy may sit atop a hill, but it is the legacy of family that has built it to what it is today.
More than 150 years have passed of the Driscoll family farming at their homestead, and there is promise for a future.
To celebrate this legacy, the current Driscoll family farm owners traveled to the Wisconsin State Fair to be honored as a Sesquicentennial Farm (150 years old.) Hill-Line Dairy is owned by Rick and Jeanne Driscoll and their daughter Abby. Additionally, the Driscolls' son, Jeremy, works on the farm as the mechanic and another son, Joel, works off the farm.
The story of Hill-Line began shortly after the start of the American Civil War in 1862, when Patrick Driscoll (formerly Driskyl) sold the very farmland the Driscolls live and work on now. He had owned and worked it for 10 years, and it is theorized he went to fight in the war. It was not until 1864, near the end of the war, that he repurchased the land and returned to farming.
Since Driscoll purchased the land in Manitowoc County's Town of Newton, the farm has not left the hands of his descendants.
Since the late 1800s, the farm had been passed from father to son. The family worked with a handful of dairy cows and around 80 acres of land for most of the first 100 years.
Rick and Jeanne are sixth-generation farmers, who followed Rick's grandfather, James, and Rick's father, Donald, who lived and farmed through the Great Depression and a time of severe drought, called the Dust Bowl, in the 1930s.
Grandfather James had such a rough time with the farm he had to rent it out and went to work in Manitowoc in one of the factories to make sure the family was supported. Once he was able to return to the farm, drought was waiting.
"They let the cows down into the swamps to be able to eat the little grass there was," Rick said of that time in the farm's history. There were no government assistance opportunities, but the Driscolls did not suffer alone, as the Dust Bowl spread throughout the Midwest and prairie regions of the United States.
Rick's parents Donald and Marie took over the farm in 1957 from James and grandma Priscilla. The two families lived together in the farmhouse, with the grandparents on the first floor and Rick's parents and two siblings on the second until Rick was 3 years old. When they moved, they went just two miles away to a place in Osman.
Things started to change on Hill-Line Dairy after that. Donald purchased two parcels of land to better sustain, and as Rick started to help out on the farm, the herd of 17 cows increased to 24 and the horses were sold and replaced with a tractor.
"Having a tractor changed everything," Rick said. "There was still a lot of physical work, but we could do it a lot faster."
As the herd grew into the 30s, more land was purchased and eventually the heifers were moved to another location so there was more room for the milking age cattle.
Milking was done two times a day, and the Driscolls had not yet installed a pipeline to transport the milk. Rick and his brother Tom had the fun job of carrying full milk buckets until 1972.
In 1977, Rick and Jeanne started farming as partners with his parents.
"I went to college not intending to farm, and I was an accountant for one year in Manitowoc," Rick said. "We got married in 1976, had it easy for a year, and then we started farming."
For 10 years, father and son worked together as partners, continuing the farm's expansion. By 1980, the herd had grown to 80 cows and they were farming around 200 acres. A big change came in 1989 when Rick decided to start milking the cows three times a day.
This decision ultimately helped the cows be more comfortable and ended up increasing production by 10 percent.
In 1996, they built a milking parlor and doubled the herd size. With time came a free-stall barn, which was added on to two times since, the second when Rick and Jeanne's daughter Abby decided to farm. The herd is now at 430 milking cows.
Abby went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and took the Farm Industry Short Course program, which was a last-minute change from her previous plan of becoming a teacher.
"I was happy that she decided to stay, as we would not have what we do now without her," Rick said. "I'm also glad we decided to grow, because we wouldn't be here and I'd be working an off-the-farm job."
Since Abby has taken on the farming partnership with her parents, she has started showing their cattle at the Manitowoc County Fair in the open class. This year, one of her six show cows brought home an honorable mention.
"I like being out there, handling the cows," Abby said of her work on the family farm.
The Driscolls are proud of what their family has done over the years to make the farm what it is today, and they have the intention to keep going on with Abby's involvement and the help of full-time employees.
"We had been thinking about applying for the last few years," Jeanne said of the State Fair honor. "And this year we decided to do it."
The family was able to enjoy the notorious State Fair food and watched some of the beef cattle judging. A breakfast was prepared for all of the century and sesquicentennial farmhonorees, and the Driscolls said they were pleasantly surprised to see so many long-running homesteaded farms throughout the state.
Rick said his mom Marie was happy the family went to receive the designation, as when the farm hit a century, Rick's dad, who passed away last year, did not want to go to West Allis to be honored.
"We were honored by Manitowoc County at that time, but dad didn't want to go to the State Fair," Rick said with a laugh. "I know he would be proud, his life was farming."