April 9, 2012 by dairycarrie
Risk more than others think is safe.
Care more than others think is wise.
Dream more than others think is practical.
Expect more than others think is possible.
The average age of Wisconsin dairy farmers is somewhere right around 55 years old. I think we all know that the vast majority of graduating high school seniors are not dreaming of becoming dairy farmers. This leads to the question, where will our milk, butter, cheese and ice cream come from in 10 or 15 years?
My husband and I own a dairy farm. But what we really should call it is a former dairy farm. We still have the silos, the buildings and the barn. The pipeline still hangs in the barn and almost 100 empty stantions great us each time we open the barn door. We bought our farm almost 6 years ago in the lobby of the sheriff’s department on foreclosure auction. That day was one of the happiest days of our lives. We got the place for a very good price and soon set up pastures for my horses and coops for the chickens, we never even had an idea of what the future would hold for us.
A few years later we were married, we both worked at jobs in town and came home and enjoyed our “farm”. Eventually after much discussion I left my town job and started working on my husband’s parent’s 100 cow dairy farm. Going in I didn’t have a clue about cows or farming but we had an idea of what we wanted our life to be like in the future and the first step was to figure out if dairy farming was the right path for us to be on. The cows and I clicked and I finally had the feeling of knowing what I was meant to do. We started buying a few calves and cows here and there and building our own herd. Then a couple of years after joining the farm things went sour and my husband and I were back to square one.
For the last two years my husband, myself and our cows have been stuck in limbo. A man without a country has nothing on a cow without a farm. We’ve shuffled our cows and young stock from place to place, trying to find the perfect solution. We have a new dream. Instead of one day taking over the farm and fields that my husband grew up on and both of us working on the farm together, now we hope to bring a smaller herd of dairy cows back to the farm that we own. The problem with this plan is that just about every twist in the road is bringing road blocks. The largest road block is a doozie and we can’t move on to the other problems until this one is cleared.
Our beautiful farm once housed about 100 cows and another 100+ replacement heifers. As the farmer and his wife aged and his sons went on to non farming careers they made the decision to sell the cows and eventually they sold the farm. A neighboring farmer who had also sold his cows and instead went to crop farming, bought the farm. Like the majority of farms that no longer housed dairy farms the crop land was split off from the buildings and the house, buildings and the land they sat on was sold as a farmette. Our “farm” sits on just over 6 acres.
Jefferson County sits between Madison and Milwaukee. It’s a county of small towns full of people who commute to the larger cities each day. It is also a county with a good number of farms and farm land. Back in the 70’s there were water quality issues due to over spreading of chicken manure on land near the waterways of our county by a large egg facility. The county board enacted some very strict zoning laws pertaining to “animal units” per acre and never looked back. Currently unless you have 35, continuous, owned not rented acres, you may only keep one 1000lbs “animal unit” per acre. We have 6 acres, this means we can have 6 cows. Many other counties have similar laws however they allow more animals per acre so long as you can show that you have a manure management program that includes enough contracts to spread the manure on enough acres to not cause problems. However Jefferson County has chose not to allow this. With land costs in the $8-10,000/acre, even if the land around us was for sale financing over a quarter of a million dollars to reach the magic 35 acre number isn’t possible. The laws they enacted in the 70’s are effectively keeping young farmers from starting and building their own futures.
So we think that now may be the time to push for a change. Not only for our future but for other young farmers who are starting out on their own. The fight will be expensive, the costs to apply for a zoning change first in our township then the county are over $1,500. If they say no, we do not get the money back. We will need to pay for outside consultants, attorneys and i’m sure there will be bills for things I can’t even imagine yet. This will use up any savings we have, any extra income and it could be all for nothing more than a chance at our dream.
So as we start down this road we ask for your prayers and support. We may get to the time when we will need you to raise your voice in support of our dreams and I think you in advance for any help you can give.