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This is part of a three-part series "Farming into the Future" that explores the opportunities for farmers to be successful in this industry despite the economic challenges.

For several years, during the current period of depressed milk prices, we’ve been reading about dairy farm families dispersing their dairy herds and other dairy farms coming to an end because of no succeeding generation to keep the operation alive. 

Optimistically, Wisconsin will lose 500 licensed dairy farms during 2018, some of them who have been in the same family for generations. Sad.

However, last winter at a dairy meeting I talked with Duane Hinchley, a Cambridge dairy producer who was waiting for the soil to thaw so that contractors could begin building a new dairy barn complete with four Lely  milking robots.  He said that he and his wife Tina, had been planning a new dairy facility for a number of years and now was the time to do it. 

I stopped at the farm once during the summer: the slatted floor and manure holding basement were in but “the rains had slowed the building process,” Tina Hinchley said. 

Last week I called Tina and Duane and they said their new building was nearing completion and that I should come down and see it.  And, I did.

Just finishing

A crew from Argall Dairy Systems at Belleville were at work installing the Lely Astronaut A5 milking robots (the latest edition Lely  robot) with plans to begin milking in early December.  

Duane and Tina showed me the DCC Waterbeds already installed in the 229 cow stalls by  Advanced Comfort Technology at Sun Prairie.  “We want too provide cow comfort  but we didn’t want to use sand bedding,” Tina says.  “Sand is hard on pumps and mechanical equipment.” 

The´existing freestall barn now used for milking cows and heifers will remain in use for heifers and dry cows.  “Our current barn has 75 tie stalls and we milk 140 cows so we double switch cows each milking.  In fact, I’ve been switching cows all my milking days,” Duane says.  “That’s a lot of work and I’ll be glad when we don’t do that anymore."

Then 240 cows

The addition of the four Lely robots will allow for about 60 cows each or a total of 240 milk cows — an increase of 100 cows over the current herd. 

“We will have some extra heifers freshening and may buy a few cows,” Duane says. 

The new barn measures 127 by 300 and was built by Midwest Roofing and Construction at Dodgeville and is an insulated Varco- Pruden metal structure with tunnel ventilation and there are no side wall curtains, Hinchley explains. 

A key factor in the Hinchley’s move to building a new robotic milking system is daughter Anna’s desire to return to the farm after graduating from the UW-Madison CALS with a dairy science degree where she is completing her junior year. 

Anna and her twin sister Catherine have long been active in 4-H exhibiting a number of fair animals over the years but Catherine is heading in another direction professionally (radiology). 

Bought in 1999

The Hinchleys bought the farm from Duane’s dad Keith in 1999 and now farm some 2,200 acres.

“My dad, who died in 2009 wouldn’t know the farm today,” Duane says. “We’ve added so much — like 380,000 bushels of grain storage. Oh, and we have 700-800 acres still to be combined because of the rains.”

Farm tours

Another important aspect of the Hinchley farming operation is “Hinchley's Dairy Farm Tours” that Tina conducts. 

More: Having a “dairy good” day at Roden Barnyard Adventures

Their website says “Hinchley Farm Tours are an educational way to learn about farming, food production and family farm life. The outdoor environment is relaxing and fun for families, school groups and organizational outings....”our tours include a visit to the dairy barn, with a "hands on" opportunity for you to milk a cow. Then off to the calf nursery where you'll meet the newborn calves. In the milk house,  you will see how the milk is stored before it is hauled by the milk truck to be processed. Stroll out to the barnyard where you will see and visit many farm animals including chickens, goats, sheep, cats, ducks and geese. The feed for all of the animals is included, as well as an antique tractor driven hayride* out to check out our crops and we have many farm animals for you to see, pet, feed, and learn about.”

Tour a working farm

“About 20 years ago we took a tour at another farm and the tour guide had so many  things wrong that we decided to go ahead with our own tour right here on the farm where we could show actual farming.” Tina says. “We started with local schools and businesses and it grew by word of mouth. We were booked solid last spring and this fall. Interestingly, half  the children on school tours bring their parents with them. And, everyone asks questions about farming. The addition of the milking robots will make our tour program even  more interesting and exciting," she says.

Go to www.Hinchleydairyfarmtours.com for full information. 

Foreign visitors

“Yes, we get tourists from a far distance, many from overseas because of our farm location.  Guests visiting the UW-Madison, Epic at Verona and Chicago businesses often want something different to do like a farm tour and come to us. A week ago we had 53 high school students from western North Dakota on their way to the national FFA Convention in Indianapolis stop. Their two-hour tour actually lasted three hours,” Tina explains. 

Long term planning

We were talking dairy expansion for four to five years Duane explained. 

“Part of it was to add more diversification. We sold 400.000 bushels of grain last year and dairying was but a small part of our enterprise. The fact that our daughter Anna intends to come back and farm was a deciding factor. A couple of years ago we began looking at robotic milking and we’re just a month or so away from startup.

Even with 2,200 acres of cops and the current 140 cows, the Hinchleys do not have any employees, which surprised me. “I’m the fulltime calf feeder/milker employee," Tina says with a laugh. “And, tour guide, although we do have some part time retired farmers and friends that help with the big tours.”

Both Hinchleys are also active outside of the farm: Tina is a member of the board of directors of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Farmers Union; Duane is active in several marketing cooperatives. 

The Hinchley dairy expansion was also prompted and achieved by their long term planning. saving money for an expansion, trust that the dairy industry will regain viability, that life and dairying must go on and that they will continue as a family operation. 

Great!

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-572-0747, or email him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.

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