Eleven years after the fire
It was just a little over eleven years ago (July 19, 2008) that the dairy barn on the Clifford Hageman dairy farm in Oregon burned to the ground. The 60 by 164-foot dairy barn held 120 cows in four rows of stanchions along with some 22,000 bales of hay and straw. Eight cows were destroyed along with the hay and straw.
A temporary milking facility with a Cover-all roof was constructed in the small barn adjoining the destroyed barn where 24 cows could be milked at one time.
Meanwhile Clifford and his sons Daryl and Clayton and daughter Connie continued farming their 1500 acres of land and raising pigs and steers while pondering the future of dairying on the family farm.
What to do?
Questions such as these were pondered: Rebuild a traditional barn on the same site? Freestall and parlor? Insurance coverage and other financial considerations? Future of the dairy operation?
The last line of my August 22, 2008, column read: “My guess is that Cliff and Carla Hageman and their family will make the right decisions, proceed ahead and do it right...and the cows will continue.”
It’s now eleven years later and although I knew the Hagemans were still dairying, I had not really talked with Cliff over the years since the fire and figured it was about time to catch up.
“Yes, we’re still a family dairy farm,” Cliff began. “But my wife and I have rented the land, machinery and livestock to our sons Daryl and Clayton who continue to run the operation. And, yes there are still 120 cows being milked in the rebuilt barn.” Cliff said the family put a lot of thought in the rebuilding plans and went ahead with a rebuild on the same floor and foundation.
It turned out that they did not build a complete haymow over the barn but have added four rebuilt Harvestores for haylage and silage, one on the barn and three on the heifer and dry cow lot close by, Cliff summarized.
As we toured the barn, Cliff pointed out that this was the same concrete floor, foundation and barn cleaner from the original barn. “The water used in the fire protected it all,” Cliff pointed out. “It’s still a four row stanchion barn.”
Cliff, who had been raking third crop hay on a nearby rented field, commented that the hay crop was light this year and that they’d probably need to buy some from out of state.
He then invited me to take an auto tour of the surrounding area to view a bit of the past and some of the future. As we headed west toward Paoli and Verona, Cliff pointed out tree-covered hills that were once farmland. One 40 acre field, on which the Hagemans raise corn and oats, is set on a hill surrounded by trees, new roads, cul de sacs and For Sale signs.
“They wanted to put a road through my land too but I didn’t sell,” Cliff said with a bit of a wry laugh.
This new development is in the town of Verona where you can freely build as compared to the city of Fitchburg where we still have agricultural zoning.
We passed the old grade school that is still standing where Cliff went to school and stopped at a hayfield north of the Hageman farm where Cliff had been raking hay that morning.
The adjoining field on a now vacant farm was covered with giant ragweed.
“I would have rented the farm, the land and kept the weeds down but they didn’t want to do it, so it’s a mess.” he says.
As we headed south back to the farm we stopped at the original town of Fitchburg village on Wendt Road which today is a mere remnant of the past with a couple of memorial markers and the two or three original buildings that remain.
“That was a store and post office,” Cliff said as he pointed to a white house alongside the road running parallel to the former railroad track, now the popular Badger State Bike trail.
“We had a Fitchburg Village picnic last week,” Cliff said. “There were 80 - 90 people there eating my sweet corn.”
Although only a few buildings remain (and a couple of historical markers marking the site of the original Fitchburg Village), the east side of the road, across from the bike trail, is lined with maybe a dozen homes built in recent years.
“Will there be a next generation on the Hageman farm?” I asked.
“I hope so,” Cliff says. “We’ve farmed the land since 1963 and raised six children here. I’ve planned it all out in my will but who knows? If the agricultural zoning is repealed there will be a land rush. In fact, Verona is expanding this way already.”
“What happened to the Jerry Dunne farm and his historic barn on the north end of Fitchburg? The farm is gone and there is a big building there now.” I asked.
“I don’t know how that was possible,“ Cliff admitted.
My curiosity got the best of me so I called the Fitchburg City Planner and Zoning Administrator Sonje Kruesel.
“The Dunne farm was located within the urban service area, “ Kruesel says. "That allowed the zoning to be changed and the farm is being replaced with a church.”
“What about the well known O'Brien Farm just south of Jerry Dunne’s former farm?" was my next question? "I know Pat O'Brien and his brother had quit milking a few years ago and the barn sits empty."
“No, that farm is in the agricultural zoning area and can’t be developed,” Kruesel responded.
Thanks Sonja. I’ve wondered about these two farms, both friends of mine and subjects of this column over the years.
Hageman also said that his dairy is one of only two still remaining in the city of Fitchburg.
“Yes, ours and the one run by the State Correctional facility located closer to Oregon are all that remain of the 130 dairy farms that were here in the 1940s,” he said.
It’s a city
Note: The City of Fitchburg was originally a normal 36-square mile township until the City of Madison began encroaching on its border through annexation. In 1983, after a long battle that ended up in the State Supreme Court, the town of Fitchburg became the City of Fitchburg and formed its own government.
Until recently Fitchburg was home to many large and well-known dairy farms including the O’Briens and Doerfer Brothers, both now cow-less.
Many years ago there were several dairy processing plants providing milk to the nearby city of Madison. These included Bowman Dairy, home of one of the first milking parlors in the state, a site visited by most Madison school children. The old milking parlor building still sits empty and somewhat forlorn alongside Fish Hatchery Road in Madison.
I enjoyed my visit with Cliff Hageman, the barn tour and drive around rural and original Fitchburg while always remembering that change happens and continues in spite of our sometimes efforts to contain it. That’s life!
John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.