Happiness is farming and family
I first met Kurt “Buzz” Flannery at a farm auction in May, 1997. He had just bought four rather high priced cows ($1600 - 1700 each) during a period of very low milk prices ($10.70 per hundred). “I came to buy high quality cows — these are milking well right now and will make me money down the road,” he said.
Flannery was milking 60 cows at the time — about the state herd average in 1997 — in a tie stall barn.
“How do you plan to stay in business in coming years, was my question? (Dairy herd expansions were running full speed ahead at the time and small dairies were trying to figure out their future, if any.)
“My brothers, Randy and Harlan, my cousin, Marco, and my mother, Marylyn, each own separate farms but we use one set of farm equipment,” Buzz explained. “That’s our key to running individual dairy farms, I’m optimistic about the future."
In February 2008, nearly 11 years later, I visited Flannery at his farm north of Argyle.The Flannery home was warm and cozy on a cool, dark, foggy February day as Buzz introduced his wife, Kimmy, and their four children Sloan, Hayden, Payton and Breann.
Buzz well remembers what he said so long ago but also notes the changes. "For one thing, I wasn't married at the time," he says with a laugh as his four youngsters crowd around his legs and his wife smiles.
Kim is a Blanchardville farm girl who attended Madison Business College and worked at an insurance company and a development company in Madison before working at a Brodhead factory. "I never liked to work indoors and was happy to move to the dairy farm and milk cows," she says. "And it is a great place to raise our children."
The Flannerys are milking 75 cows today, 15 more than that day at the auction 11 years ago.
"I never have had any interest in going big," Buzz says. But Flannery admits he has gotten bigger on one way — he runs a custom hay and corn chopping business that covers about a 10-mile radius. This enterprise has picked up over the years. "More farmers are hiring custom operators instead of buying big machinery," he says. "Oh, and we also raise a few Holstein steers on our farm."
Kim, who says she enjoyed working with cows at home growing up, does most of the milking. "Buzz is really more of a machinery guy," she says with a chuckle. "That's OK."
Some years ago they demolished a couple of concrete silos, went to plastic bags as silage storage, bought a bagger and went to a total mixed ration (TMR) feeding system. A mobile feed cart is used to distribute silage in the barn.
The Flannerys live on Buzz's home farm. And, as he did 11 years ago, Buzz still shares farm equipment with his brother, Harlan, and cousin, Marco. His mother, Marilyn, lives nearby.
Buzz says his father, John Flannery Sr., was an old school farmer who helped his three sons and a cousin get started farming. "I bought the home farm on a land contract," Buzz says. "We have four years to go to pay it off."
"Each of the farms have milk cows and we farm about 2,000 acres all told," Buzz says. "Just like we did back then."
Buzz and Kim Flannery and their four children make a great farm family. They are proud of their farm and of their lifestyle, and they are optimistic in their farming future — just as Buzz was 11 years ago.
Agriculture has its ups and downs," Buzz says. "But so does most every other business."
10 years later
A couple of weeks ago while reviewing some columns written over the past 30 or so years, I ran into the one from February 2008 (above) featuring a visit with Kurt and Kim Flannery and got to thinking “I wonder if they are still farming?”
After a series of phone calls, I found out that, yes, they were farming at the same location. A call to Kurt’s cell phone brought forth the response “yes, I remember you and our previous conversations,” Kurt said. “We’re still here, come on out and we can talk again."
So I did, last Wednesday.
One of the big changes in the Flannery family is that the four children have grown: daughter, Sloan, now 19, lives in Cuba City and works as a beautician in Darlington: son, Hayden, 17, is a senior at Argyle High; son Payton, 15, is a sophomore and daughter, Breann, 14, is in the eighth grade. Both sons are involved in basketball and cross country sports and in FFA.
Another noticeable change is the huge kitchen that was added on to the house in 2012. The long counters were full of food for the next days' Thanksgiving dinner Kim was preparing for.
When we last talked, Kurt was growing a custom hay and corn chopping business that grew big — to two sets of equipment. “But, it got too big and I sold one chopper to an employee who continued that part of the business, so I’m a bit smaller than I was.”
Kim is still pretty much the cow milker (along with the kids) for the 75 cow herd The herd hasn’t grown in numbers, Kurt says. “That’s what the barn holds and that’s enough.”
Kurt remains the crop guy working with his brother, Harlan, and cousin, Marco, and mother who still owns a nearby farm. The farms — about 2,000 acres in total) are still individually owned and are adjoining or close by and they still share one set of equipment. “We each own some big farm equipment individually and a lot together and we get the work done,” Kurt says. “The secret is to be able to get along.”
Over the now many years I’ve known the Flannerys they have not changed their outlook on being farmers: “We both love farming and as a place to raise children,” Kim says. “And, there is something new every day of every year,” Kurt adds. Oh yes, and as planned, the land contract was paid off years ago.
And, during my couple hour visit, I heard not one complaint about farming or farm life. They are true, happy and successful farmers!
John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.