COLUMNISTS

Yes, there is life after the cows are gone

John Oncken
An attractive and immaculate farmstead.

It was the spring of 2004 during a Grande Cheese producer meeting when I first met Arnie and Darla Fischer, who were milking cows near Rio. We were sitting at the same table during lunch at which they where they were one of the honorees who received awards for producing quality milk.

Naturally I asked the Fischers about their dairy farm which turned out to have 55 milk cows. This is a small dairy by today’s standards—the average Wisconsin herd is 78 cows—so I asked a few questions. The result was an invite to visit their farm. And, as I wrote in this space on April 22, 2004: 

“My first reaction several weeks later when I made the trip to Rio and the Fischer dairy was if you want to see a dairy farm that looks like one that could fit in well with the 1950-1960’s era, it's the Fischers: Round roofed, white barn, a group of white outbuildings, two-story house, big trees and a farm sign. 

The farm sign is appropriate as the farm has been hit by high winds several times including the Barneveld  tornado in 1984 that caused heavy damage.

Yet modern

But a closer look would show that the Fischers have a modern free-stall barn, bunker silage storage and calf hutches and a heifer barn. All fit in well with dairy farming in the 21st century.  

Arnie and Darla are the third generation of Fischers on this land. They farm some 450 acres and share cropping equipment and labor with David Fischer (Arnie’s brother) who milks some 125 cows on 600 acres on the farm next door. Dad Alvin Fischer, although retired, lives nearby and is at one or the other farm almost every day.

The round roof dairy barn now houses beef calves, the dairy cows are gone.

Arnie Fischer didn’t join the family farm right after high school; he worked for a year or two for an uncle who bought and sold cattle. Arnie says, ‘But I drove by the home farm every day and thought about dairying and finally came back.’

Darla was a “farm girl” who married Arnie 18 years ago. And although she works part time at the Columbia County Health Care Center “for health insurance benefits,” she’s very much involved in the dairy farm.

The Fischer’s guiding rule for farming is “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.” 

The Fischers have decided that a milking parlor is their next goal and it will come one day. Arnie and Darla admit it would be a labor saver and they are looking at others  and planning in order to “do it right.”

27 years later

I recently came across this column from 17 years ago while paging through past writing efforts (for memories sake) and got to wondering: Were the Fischers still farming these nearly two decades later? Yes, their names were on the internet but there were no details - so a trip to Rio was a logical move. 

The farm looked the same as I drove in the driveway: All white  buildings, lawn freshly mowed, everything neat, clean and in place. It took Darla a couple of minutes to place who I was, but she remembered fast and began to relate what had transpired on the Fischer farm over the years.

Darla Fischer and daughter Kimberly Gruenwald. Kimberly and husband Tom are parents of two of the Fischer's grandchildren, Allyson and Parker. While they live elsewhere, they do help on the farm.

“My husband Arnie is several farms away baling hay,” she began. “He does quite a bit of custom baling and combining since we sold our dairy cows and the barn is now full of beef calves. I’ll call him."

Cows went in 2019

Arnie answered the phone from his seat in the tractor and briefly explained the changes at Windy View Farm over the years. 

“Yes, we sold our 70 dairy cows in September of 2019,” Arnie began. “We knew our son Eric did not want to milk cows and dairying today means getting bigger, much bigger or having a dairy processing operation of some kind. So we began feeding steers, about 150 a year, cropping our 800 acres of land, doing some custom harvesting and Eric and I also have a landscaping business."

Son, Eric, left, and Arnie Fischer working in the machine shop.

Arnie also said that during the 17 years they had built a much needed milking parlor (Double 6 Herringbone) in 2007 and a large machine shed in 2017. Arnie also said the family was proud to have hosted the 2013 Columbia County Moo-Day Brunch on a cloudy day, in which attendees at this traditional June Dairy Month celebration — were hoping it wouldn’t rain - and it didn’t.

Still works with animals

In a phone call the next day we continued our conversation in which I asked Arnie if he missed raising and milking dairy cows? 

“No, not really,” he says. “Maybe because we still have lots of livestock on the farm and must work with them every day."

As to the financial aspect of the change in farming enterprises, he said they were doing as well as during the dairying days what with the beef cattle, custom work, landscaping business and Darla’s part-time work at the Columbia County Health Care Center. 

Many ways

In that column 27 years ago, I also wrote, “the Fischers will farm for a good long time, will continue to grow—albeit slowly—and will keep on being top farm managers. And, one approach does not mean an only approach--there are many ways to farming success. It’s always been so.

Yes, the 17 years have seen change at Windy View Farm and the  the Fischers have moved with the times successfully and continue to look to the future with confidence.

John Oncken can be reached at 608-837-7406 or e-mail at jfodairy2@gmail.com