September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

A day in the life of the Hinckley family

A team effort at Hinckley Holsteins keeps the farm running
At 7:45 a.m., Matt loaded the back of his truck with seed corn before heading out to the field to plant. With rain forecasted in the afternoon, Matt was eager to start field work for the day. (photo by Krista M. Sheehan)
At 7:45 a.m., Matt loaded the back of his truck with seed corn before heading out to the field to plant. With rain forecasted in the afternoon, Matt was eager to start field work for the day. (photo by Krista M. Sheehan)

By Krista M. Sheehan- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

CHATFIELD, Minn. - Dale Hinckley knows his family's farm wouldn't run as a one-man operation and wouldn't be as successful if not for a network of hardworking people - his dedicated family, good employees and others, like the veterinarian and lenders.

"It's all a team effort," Dale said. "It's not all about what you know today, it's the infrastructure you use."

Friday, May 15, the team at Hinckley Holsteins was hard at work to complete their tasks for the day. Dale and his wife, Marlys, own the 380-cow dairy in partnership with their son, Matt. Their other son, Adam, returned to the farm in January to work full-time. Along with family, Hinckley Holsteins employs one herdsman, another all-around employee and six full-time milkers who are responsible for the three-time-a-day milking schedule.

But Hinckley Holsteins hasn't always had such a big crew. Dale, who grew up on a farm, and Marlys, who said she had been a "city girl" when she was younger, started dairy farming on April 25, 1981. Together with a neighbor, the two went into half ownership of a 26-cow dairy owned by a neighbor.

"We just grew from there," Marlys said.

They eventually went on their own and moved to their current farm in 1990, milking in a 65-stall barn.

By 1998, the Hinckleys needed to make a decision about their next step in dairying.

"We had to build or get out," Dale said. "All that bending was taking a toll on us."

They decided to build a double-eight parlor and a freestall barn, and in 2006 they added a section to the freestall. Since the time they began dairying, Marlys and Dale said they're pleased with their progress.

"When we first started, our rolling herd average wasn't even 10,000 pounds," Dale said. "Now today we're at 28,400 pounds and at one point had almost been up to 30,000."

Dale and Marlys always made the farm a family place. All four of their children are now involved on a farm - Matt and Adam on the home farm, Holly and her husband on a dairy near Plainview, and Paula and her husband on a beef farm near Hayfield.

With 3,000 acres to plant, the Hinckleys planned to be out in the fields early on Friday morning. Dale wanted to start the tractor by 5 a.m., but the day didn't go as planned. He tended to other responsibilities dealing with the dairy first and also finished tasks of his daily routine.

"We always say the cows come first," Dale said. "A friend of mine once told me, 'If you take care of the cows, the cows will take care of you.'"

Every morning Dale stops by the calf barn to check in with Marlys. He then talks with his herdsman to discuss the day's schedule and prioritize the farm duties. Dale then heads to the office to read and respond to e-mails, and check the overnight markets.

"It's a lot of office work, too," Dale said.

When he's done in the office, Dale's responsibilities vary depending on the day. On May 15, Dale needed to check in with Matt who was about to load seed corn into his truck to prepare for planting. After feeding calves and then sorting some cows, Marlys helped Matt pile the bags. With a full load, Marlys worried the bags would fall off the top.

"I'll drive slow," said Matt with a laugh.

Although the blue skies and bright sun had a promising look for a problem-free morning of planting, Matt was eager to get out to the fields to beat the forecasted afternoon rain.

While Matt and Marlys finished their job at 7:50 a.m., Dale helped a classifier from Holstein USA find 13 cows in the freestall to score. Two A.I. companies asked the Hinckleys to score daughters of upcoming bulls. By about 8:30 a.m., the classifier had finished scoring and Dale and Marlys moved on to their next tasks.

Marlys updated records for their heifer grower, who takes the calves at six months of age and brings them back two months before calving. Bookkeeping and payroll are also Marlys's responsibility.

"That's almost a full-time job itself," Marlys said.

Meanwhile, Dale went to talk to Adam before he left with a load of corn. That morning, Adam had already checked the feed inventory and traveled to Winona with a load of soybeans.

"I've been doing a lot of hauling lately," said Adam, who is the farm's chief mechanic and also does a lot with the crops and feed, such as checking inventories and moistures.

Adam set a goal for the cows to average 100 pounds of milk per day. With a team effort, they came close and peaked at 97 pounds.

"I like the variety," Adam said about his favorite part about farming. "I love everything from putting the crop in to making it (eventually) produce milk or produce ethanol, and making everything jive in between."

As Adam drove out, Dale checked progress with herdsman Joe Olson. Usually Olson's main responsibility is caring for the cows, but today he also had to mix feed because another employee took the day off.

After a brief conversation with Olson, Dale checked the markets one more time and prepared to go out to the field. The rest of the morning and afternoon, Dale planted soybeans, hoping to finish and beat the rain. Matt planted corn and Adam continued trucking.

Marlys used the afternoon to work on payroll and get some housework done. At 4 p.m., she went to the calf barn to check the automatic calf feeder and feed grain to the older heifers with her two granddaughters, Abigail (6) and Alexis (3).

"I never minded feeding with bottles, but this just makes it (feeding calves) so much faster," Marlys said about her automatic calf feeder and new calf barn built in October 2008.

By 4:30, the gray sky and misty rain forced the Hinckleys to halt their planting for the day and the week. By 5 p.m., the family had gathered in the calf barn, discussing the day, helping finish the final chores and deciding what to make for dinner.

"We try to be done at five or six at night and try our best to get everything done during the week," Dale said.

On the weekends, Dale, Matt, Adam and Joe rotate being on call. The time off allows for additional family time. Dale and Marlys enjoy taking short road trips in the tri-state area in their convertible. They also enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren.

But the Hinckleys would not be able to take this time off or farm like they do without their network of good people.

"It's all about teamwork," Dale said.

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