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

Duncanson develops love for dairy farming

Winona family continues 140-year dairy tradition

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

WINONA, Minn. - When deciding his career in his early 20s, Dan Duncanson said dairy farming ranked last on his list.

"I never really wanted to milk cows," he said.

But when Dan married his wife, Linda, in 1973, the bank only gave him two options.

"When we got married we wanted to buy this farm and basically the only place we could borrow money was from the Farmers Home Administration," Dan said. "They said 'either you milk cows or we're not going to give you a note.' That's why we started milking cows."

Thirty five years later, Dan still milks cows twice a day and has developed a love for a career he originally pushed aside. Dan is the fifth generation in the Duncanson family to dairy farm. His career choice helps carry on a family dairy farming tradition, which started on one of their current farmsteads in 1868. This year, the Duncanson family dairy farm is being recognized as a century farm - 40 years after surpassing the milestone.

Originally from Nova Scotia, Dan's ancestors first settled in Wisconsin before finding their permanent farmstead in Minnesota. The elder William Duncanson was the first to settle the 160 acres of land, but the Duncanson family today only owns 99 acres of the original farmstead.

Although many details of farming in the earlier days have been lost throughout the generations, Dan remembers his own childhood working along side his dad and hearing stories about his grandpa. Both milked Guernseys and Ayrshires.

"My grandpa used to say, 'You only need a Holstein to rinse the cream separator,'" Dan said with a laugh.

But when Dan started his own herd - milking 40 cows in a stanchion barn - he looked beyond the breeds of his family and chose Holsteins.

"Holsteins have been good to us," he said.

Over the years, Dan began to enjoy his time with his dairy cows, especially as more technology became available and his children started helping him with chores.

"It's not so bad anymore," he said. "It's gotten a whole lot easier than it used to be when I was milking by myself."

Dan and Linda's five adult children - Holly, Angie, Lori, Pat and Ross - and their 17-year-old son Michael, were all helpful contributors on the farm and were heavily involved in the 4-H dairy project at the Winona County Fair.

"We call the Winona County Fair a family reunion," Pat said. "That's where all our friends and family gathered."

Pat's involvement in 4-H also helped him explore different project areas.

"I've always liked the livestock," Pat said. "It started when I was 8 or 9 years old. First I got a ewe lamb, then a beef calf, then a horse and then I finally started buying registered cows."

This started his hobby showing dairy cows.

"My dad and I showed, but I didn't hit it as hard as this guy," Dan said motioning to Pat. "That's Pat's pride and joy is getting cattle ready for shows."

Buying those registered animals also sparked his passion for milking cows and added the sixth generation of Duncanson dairy farmers. Pat has been farming with his dad since 1994 when he graduated from high school. His return to the farm also brought changes.

"When Pat started here we thought we better get more cows," Dan said.

They bought more registered cows and started using more AI along with their herd bull.

"We like to breed cows that are made to last and will stick around for longer than a year," Pat said.

In 1996, the Duncansons also converted their stanchion barn to a flat milking parlor and built a free-stall barn to accommodate the increased herd size.

But two years later during a Saturday in June, the farm they had been building up came crashing down in a tornado. Their milking barn was destroyed and they no longer had a roof on their free-stall barn.

"It was a bad summer," Dan said. "You try to forget stuff like that."

The storm didn't stop them from continuing their family tradition.

"It wasn't really an option to stop (dairy farming) because he (Pat) wanted to farm and I said, 'well we'll keep on going,'" Dan said.

By the following Monday, Dan and Pat had already started to rebuild.

The cows were housed and milked at a neighbor's farm during the reconstruction process and sixty days later, a new double eight flat parlor and free-stall roof were finished.

"We're a tough breed," Dan said. "We just dig down and do it."

Since then, the Duncansons haven't faced any major hurdles, but continually try to improve their farm. They now milk 75 Holsteins - half are registered - and farm 417 acres.

And if you would have asked Dan in 1973 where he saw himself in 2008, he wouldn't have said "on a dairy farm." But now continuing a 140 year family tradition with his son, he couldn't imagine it any other way.

"I like living out in the country and it's a good place to raise a family," Dan said. "I just like the lifestyle."

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