A family beef herd and some history
The herd of perhaps 60 black and red beef cows, with their calves were gathered in the corner of the big pasture alongside the rural road, A sight to enjoy and worthy of taking a few photos — so I did both.
Large herds of black cattle are not commonly seen in southern Dane county — that’s the land of former dairy herds — now remembered only by the many empty barns and unused silos — and big fields of crops, mainly corn and soybeans.
My curiosity about this really good looking herd of beef got the best of me so I rapped on the door of the nearby house. No one was home but a car drove into the farmstead just down the hill near the pasture.
That’s how I met Linda Link, who with her husband Jim Link, owns the beef herd. “He’s on his way home and will be here in a few moments,” Linda said. “Let’s sit in the washroom of the barn and I’ll tell you a bit about our operation.
“Our daughter, Grace, is at the Wisconsin State Fair showing two beef animals, a registered Angus and a registered Simmenthal,” she began. “She also was crowned Supreme Champion Beef Show Person earlier in the week.”
Still going, 75 years later
Linda then explained that Grace was a member of the Triangle Troopers 4-H Club and Stoughton FFA and will be attending Iowa State University where she’ll be majoring in animal science and communication.
“Triangle Troopers 4-H Club,” I exclaimed, “Way over here? That’s a long way from where that club got started. It was started in my house in the 1940s when my mother, the leader of the Flint School 4-H, Olga Ottum teacher and 4-H leader at Starr School (several miles east) and Hilcrest School 4-H (near Cooksville) got together and joined the three small clubs to form the bigger Triangle Troopers 4-H Club with maybe 25 members. That’s perhaps 75 years ago.”
“Yes, I knew it has been around for a long time and it covers a lot of territory and has perhaps 70 members now. It’s a very active 4-H club,” Linda said. “Grace mentors young beef project members and wants to stay near the cattle business after graduation from college."
Jim Link arrived at the farm from his job in Stoughton at Hull Transport, a trucking firm a few minutes later and we began talking about the history of the beef operation.
As a farm boy, Link had been involved with cattle all his life and managed a 550 cow dairy herd in Hereford, Texas from 1982 - '92 for his dad’s far-flung dairy operation. He returned to Wisconsin in 1992 and began working in Stoughton.
Beef in 1995
Jim and Linda started the commercial beef herd in 1995 after buying a few Angus cows from a farmer friend.
“I had been working with cattle for a long time and love animals, so we began the beef operation,” he says. “The 100-acre farm we’re on was actually one of the five dairy farms my dad owned years ago. It had been out of our family ownership for some years and we bought it from another owner."
Their 18 year old daughter Grace has been showing cattle at fairs since the third grade and as a young 4-Her had showed a Red and White Holstein at the Stoughton and Dane county fairs. At age 13, she received an FSA loan of $5,000 to purchase two registered Angus which got her seriously involved in the beef business and she continued to exhibit at local and the state fair. At the recent Wisconsin State Fair, she exhibited an Angus and a Simmenthal in addition to being named Supreme Champion Beef Showperson.
“We rent the cropland on our 100 acre farm to a neighbor,” Jim says. “We also have another 40 acres. We get hay for our cattle from both places."
The Link beef herd continued to increase over the years to the current 60 cows. “We keep the calves for six to nine months then sell them at the Bloomington Livestock Exchange at Bloomington, Wisconsin,” Jim says. “Buyers then feed them out. Now, we may cut the herd back a bit what with the loss of our good helper, Grace, who is in college.”
The Links built a solar barn for the beef cows to use during the winter and have a small, old chicken house, a storage barn and a rental house on the farmstead, just down the hill from the house they built 12 years ago.
Linda Link is an integral part of the beef operation even while serving as marketing coordinator at Fitchburg-based Promega, the internationally known manufacturer of enzymes and other products for biotechnology and molecular biology. “I’ve been there for 29 years,” she says.
Remembering Kervyn Link
During our conversation, I remembered the name Kervyn Link, a very progressive dairyman in the 1960s, who was milking some 500 cows in the Cottage Grove area — which many dairy producers, at the time, thought was “too big.”
“Yes, that was my dad. He had 150 cows along with a Surge parlor installed in the 1950s on the home farm on North Star Road south of Cottage Grove (it’s still in the family) and more cows on four other farms managed by different families who lived on the farms. He was featured in Hoards Dairyman a couple of times.”
On to Texas
After high school in 1976, Jim went to Hereford, Texas, to manage 200 heifers and work on a dairy facility located on a former feedlot, owned by his father.
“We had Ralph Rotier of Germania put in a Double 8 Herringbone parlor and milked 550 cows with the milk going to AMPI. We also farmed 900 acres of irrigated land,” he says.
"The barn had 600 California stanchions (headlocks) and we were milking 80 cows per hour. I also remember that we bought a lot of Holstein bulls from Don Larson at Larson Acres at Evansville," Jim said.
“When I left Texas in 1992, I had made friends with a number of dairy producers who had moved their dairy herds from Chino, California,” Jim said. “That’s about the time the big move of dairies out of Southern California had started.”
In addition to milking a lot of cows, Kervyn Link was bottling milk and making cheese at his Alpenrose Dairy on Highway N just south of Cottage Grove. (Now home to a landscaping business.) He had moved the equipment from the former Country Boy Dairy in Stoughton (another longgone name) to start the new plant. He also owned Midway Equipment near Waterloo, Brooklyn Implement, at Brooklyn, and had a car dealership in Stoughton.
Jim Link worked with the Texas dairy herd from 1982 to 1992 before returning home and beginning work at the trucking company. The Texas herd was sold a couple of years later, in 1994, and Kervyn Link died shortly after.
As I’ve written before, oftentimes a casual stop at a farm results in an interesting story as this one did. It combined family, farm, cattle and history. What could be better?
As I look back, the Link herd in Cottage Grove was not popular with other farmers, it was just too big at 150 cows and Kervyn Link was too ambitious. Today he would be almost small. And the 550 cow herd that Jim Link worked with in the Texas panhandle would be too small to operate there today. Times do change.
John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-572-0747, or email him at email@example.com.