The Everyday Rewards of Dairy Farming

My dad made it clear that we could do what we wanted; we didn’t have to stay on the farm. He said he would support our decisions.

Photos courtesy of The Lands We Share project

Mike Dettman | Johnson Creek, WI

“But, growing up, I just remember when you get those first few warm days of spring and there’s that smell. It was just fantastic. 

You start cutting hay down, you get the smell of fresh cut hay. You start turning dirt and there’s a smell there, too. 

You go out in the morning: it’s dark, you got a whole sky full of stars above you, the moon is out, cows are all lying around. You just start talking to them. They start standing up and walking to the barn.

Out there with the animals, out in nature, it’s just so quiet and peaceful. And then at the end of the day, you shut the lights off in the barn and you just hear the cows chewing and breathing. It really doesn’t get any better, if you ask me.

My great-grandfather purchased this land and spent his entire life farming. When Dad purchased the farm from him somewhere right around 1970, he promptly got drafted into the Vietnam War, so he had to sell it back to Grandpa. When he got out of the service, he purchased it back again, so it’s a joke that Dad bought the farm twice.

After he purchased the farm the second time, one of the things Dad did was add cows, and he brought in a pipeline milking system, which was fairly new at the time. I don’t want to say we were on the forefront of dairy expansion, but we took the leap in 1997 and went from milking 140 at the time to 400, and then added 100 cows two years later. We’ve been there ever since.

Farming can be dangerous. I’ve been kicked several times. You don’t handle cows without being kicked. And, we’ve had four fires in the last 15 years. The first one took our original dairy barn; it had been in the family since 1902 and was built in the 1800s. That one was the most sentimental to us. The most recent fire was pretty hard to swallow because it was our dairy facility, so it really crippled the farm and interfered with the day-to-day operations.

That fire started at three o’clock in the morning. It was January 13, 2018, a very cold morning. My morning crew came in to do the chores and found our dryers on fire. We use cloth towels to clean the cows for milking, and that’s what ignited. We quickly had to find a home for our 500 cows. We were unsure of our future for a short time.”

“By five thirty in the morning, however, we knew where our cows were going to go. Just as luck and blessings would have it, two farmer friends, fortunately, had space to take us in. I don’t think I made any phone calls that morning, looking for help to move cattle. But soon enough we had a train of trucks and trailers lined down the driveway of our farm ready to help with the move. The news spread just by word of mouth. It was quite a sight, and it still gets me choked up a bit.

Plenty of neighbors brought food that day to keep everybody fed. Warm food and beverages, everything. And nobody asked for anything in return. It made me very proud to be a member of the dairy community because without the support we received that day and in the months afterward, we probably wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing right now.

Growing up, I learned from my dad and grandpa that generosity is important.

We all try to pitch in where we can, we help out if there’s any way we can be a better neighbor. We in the farming community are fairly close-knit, and that fire really drove the point home.”

-Mike Dettmann | Johnson Creek, WI

Mike’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s collaboration with The Lands We Share, a project that focuses on the intersection of farming, land, ethnic culture, and history in Wisconsin. To hear a snippet of Mike’s interview, click this link and scroll down to ‘Dettman’ and listen to audio 02.

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