Farm tours emphasize authenticity
When visitors from Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and well beyond come to Hinchley Dairy Farm along Highway 73 just west of Cambridge, southeast of Madison in Dane County, they can be assured that they will be given a tour that's authentic.
What that means was explained by Tina Hinchley during a breakout session on how to integrate an agritourism enterprise on an operating farm during a workshop on agritourism that was held as a preconvention attraction by the Wisconsin Farmers Union. The workshop was co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association.
In addition to inviting tourists to hand milk a cow, hold rabbits or ducklings, play with vaccinated cats or feed goats, the Hinchleys don't shy away from having visitors see some of the realistic downsides of dairy farm life such as a downer cow or the abortion of a dairy calf.
A few ambitious visitors even decide to unload hay bales from wagons, Hinchley said. With such activities, having adequate liability insurance is a necessity even after WATA's success in passing state legislation giving tour hosts extra protection from liability claims. Tractor drivers who help during the tour are required to take a tractor safety course.
Without any paid advertising, any presence on Facebook, or any tweeting, Hinchley relies on its www.dairyfarmtours.com website and other means of communication to attract 10,000 school children and other visitors on scheduled visits each year.
Many University of Wisconsin-Madison students from foreign countries are among the visitors. One special visitor was from a family in Mongolia that milks 20 yak.
The primary tourism season on the farm is April through October. Scheduled tours begin at 9 am, noon and 2:30 pm. They start in an insulated shed which can seat up to 150 persons. Carry-in lunches are the only food involved during a visit.
Admission fees on weekdays are $7 for students and seniors and $9 for adults, $10 and $15 respectively on weekends, and $30 per person for any off-season tours. A free pumpkin and raspberry picking are extra treats for visitors during the autumn.
Touring began when the family farm had 70 milking cows — a number that's at 120 today. Tina Hinchley is the primary milker, starting at 4 a.m. in order to be ready for the day's tour schedule. She has the help, as needed, of up to five older farm men and women from the area and her twin daughters, Anna and Catherine.
Hinchley praises the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for the dairy tour packet that it created. She also finds that many visitors have questions about the practice of tail docking of dairy cattle and why the cows are not in a pasture.
In most cases, Hinchley said, an understanding is reached when how the tail docking is done (with a rubber band) and what the benefits are is explained. The same is true, she added, when it is pointed out how the free-stall barn helps to overcome weather challenges and provides physical comfort, cooling and readily available feed and water for the cows.
At the invitation of neighbors, the Hinchleys are cropping nearly 3,000 acres, most of it being rented land. Hinchley said her husband, Duane, has no intention of buying more land.
They can be reached by phone at 608-764-5090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.