Joe Hines watches over the machine that makes the cheese curds at Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, where he has worked for 51 years and is currently the plant superintendent. 
PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Joe Hines watches over the machine that makes the cheese curds at Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, where he has worked for 51 years and is currently the plant superintendent. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
    ELLSWORTH, Wis. – When it comes to their careers, the Hines brothers can confidently say they are dedicated to dairy.
    Between the three of them, the Hineses have worked 136 years in their careers. The eldest, Joe, has worked for Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery for 51 years and is plant superintendent. Dean has put in 43 years at the creamery and is the field supervisor. Dale, who said his career as a dairy farmer started at age 16 even if he put in many years prior as a kid, has been dairying for 42 years on the family’s 70-cow farm near Ellsworth, Wis.
    Beyond their two jobs at the creamery, Dean farms with Dale, milking cows every morning and evening, while Joe helps with fieldwork, fencing and other odds and ends.
    “It’s not the idea that we love work, but we like to see at the end of the day we accomplished something. We can get a lot more done working together than we can alone. We’re fairly efficient,” Dale said about working together with his brothers.
    Hard work is a trait ingrained into the Hineses from a young age by their parents. While their dad worked off the farm as a milk hauler for the creamery, their mom took charge at home on the dairy.
    “We did chores with her morning and night,” Dean said. “Then, she would come out and help us cut hay and run the hay baler in the summer.”
    A lot of the work in their earlier childhood years on the diversified farm was done the hard way.
    “[Mom] would run the wheelbarrow when I was too small to run it,” Joe said. “We cleaned the gutters by hand.”
    By the time they were 11 years old, the Hines brothers had mastered milking cows.
    “During deer hunting I wasn’t old enough to go,” Dale said. “When everyone came home I was almost done with chores. It’s hard to comprehend someone that young doing that kind of responsibility because today you never see that.”  
    The three brothers and their six siblings learned to rely on each other.
    “Before we had our drivers’ license Joe would pick us up at the school so we’d get home quicker,” Dean said. “Then Joe would help us do our chores. We all worked together. Joe would supervise us. We were little kids and he would direct us.”
    In the summer of 1966, Joe had an opportunity to work at the creamery, a prominent business in the local community. It’s also where the family sold their milk since the processor first opened.
    “I was baling hay one day when Dad came home and said they’re looking for help at the creamery. I worked 50 hours the first week, about 60 hours the second week and 51 years later I’m still working 50-some hours a week,” said Joe, whose position is just one level below the creamery’s CEO.
    When he started as a general laborer, he earned a wage of $2 per hour and everything was done by hand.
    “I had been making $2.10 per hour in construction before working at the creamery. I had to take a pay cut,” Joe said with a laugh.
    As time progressed, so did the technology. Joe progressed with it, earning his cheesemaker, well and wastewater licenses.
    “I’ve got just about all the licenses I can,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot.”
    Dean followed a similar route, starting in the plant and working his way up. He received his butter maker license and worked in that division.
    “It was a lot of physical labor,” Dean said. “They don’t have the continuous churns like they do now. Pulling that butter out and boxing it up was tough.”
    In 1995, a few years before the creamery stopped their butter making end of the business, Dean took his current job as field supervisor working with the farmers.
    “I wanted to get out and see the farmers and it’s worked really well,” he said. “I can walk the walk and talk the talk because I also dairy farm.”
    Dean has been through both high and low milk prices with the creamery’s patrons.
    “In these hard times you have to be careful of what you say,” he said. “You try to do the best you can, but you have to be firm. The farmers have tragedies and you have to deal with all their tragedies, too. You have a lot of different hats you have to wear. But I enjoy every bit of it. It’s a new challenge every day.”
    On the Hines family’s dairy, Dale and Dean started making business decisions and taking over in 1975 at the ages of 16 and 18.
    “We took the greatest interest [out of our siblings],” Dale said. “Our dad was always working … so we were given the freedom to figure stuff out.”
    They started breeding using A.I. and were early adapters to DHIA testing. Dale gravitated towards the mechanical side – caring for the buildings and equipment, and making sure everything was in working order.
    “Our dad and mom taught us how to keep things clean and looking nice,” Joe said. “Dad had to wash his semi tanker every weekend and we helped. Mom taught us how to be organized.”
    The three agreed that their parents, especially their mother, have been two of the greatest influences on their lives. Dale described his mother with the word discipline.
    “It wasn’t that she cracked the whip at us – she did do that, too – but it was discipline in managing money, work ethic, respect for others,” he said. “Discipline takes a lot of different avenues rather than the reprimand type that many people think of. It more of an aptitude of teaching.”
    On a daily basis, Dean milks the cows while Dale feeds, cleans and breeds cows, and does other herd health aspects.
    “When we’re doing our work we know what each other is doing,” Dean said. “We don’t even have to talk about it.”
    When it’s time for fieldwork, all three Hines brothers have their jobs. They work together to accomplish each of the tasks on the farm, not worrying about who does what as long as it gets done.
    That mentality has long been instilled in the brothers, and carries through in their day-to-day lives both on and off the farm.  
    “To be efficient and profitable, you have to put in the work and the time,” Dale said. “Joe and Dean have also done that with their jobs. They aren’t 40-hour per week jobs and if they’re asked to do something on weekend or a holiday, they’re there. They’re on call 24/7.”
    It’s this hard work ethic the Hines brothers learned years ago that continues to keep them going, dedicating a large portion of their lives to dairy.