September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
This witty, barrel-chested, blue-eyed octogenarian could justify rocking back and enjoying the ridgetop view from his small farm. But Peters refuses to do that. He has cows to milk.
"I like to milk cows," the 80-year-old said. "I enjoy it thoroughly - except in January. That's sheer hell."
Peters milked his first cow in 1948. He's milked countless more since. Five years ago, he sold his place near Elkhorn, Wis., and headed for the hills of southwest Wisconsin - to keep milking.
"Now, I could've went to Florida and played shuffleboard 'til they sent the box after me," Peters said. "Or 15 minutes into it, I mighta killed somebody. So I came up here to milk cows."
Shuffleboard would surely have proven too dull and frustrating for a man with Peters's youthful energy and keen mind. Managing the 37 acres he owns and the 70 he rents, and milking a couple of dozen registered Holsteins, is much more his style.
Peters's Hyalone Farm name and cattle prefix go back more than half a century. Next year will be his 60th as a member of Holstein Association USA.
A father of two and grandfather of six, Peters has farmed organically since 1953.
On becoming a convert to the organic way, Peters said, "We had a neighbor who got a cut on his hand, and he died from the spray - weed killer spray. Another neighbor got sprayed with DDT, and he turned yellow and nearly had liver failure."
Hyalone Farm has produced 135-bushel corn organically. Peters said he achieved 200-bushel yields at Elkhorn. A brochure from the '40s shows a teenage Peters holding ears of his high-yielding corn. The Crow's Hybrid Corn Company booklet tells how Peters averaged 110 bushels per acre two years in a row and won the 4-H Corn Growing Contest.
"I was organic when I didn't get paid for it, because it's the best way to do it. Cheapest," Peters said.
Peters is no fair-weather advocate of organics. He figures his diet is about "60 percent organic."
Eating right has contributed to Peters being able to milk cows twice a day, and to being in good health.
"I've never smoked a cigarette or drank a bottle of beer," he said.
His genetics may also factor in. Peters is Swiss and German. His grandparents lived into their '90s, and his mother is 99 and lives in Soldiers Grove, five miles away.
"Stress will kill you," Peters said, noting labor is not necessarily bad. "It isn't that I didn't work hard enough. Boy, did I work hard - backbreaking work."
A long life is not Peters goal.
"Quality of life is more important than longevity. I believe that," Peters said.
Has he achieved that, after 80 years, 63 of them dairying?
"I've had the quality of life that all my relatives and peers that I went to school with have never mastered," Peters said.
Grazing and feeding methods
Another practice Peters employs is grazing. He said it's good for the cattle and can free up money.
"I don't have any costs," Peters said. "I get by cheap. I don't have a silage wagon, silo unloader and all this stuff that goes with it."
Peters's cattle get pasture, cob corn, dry hay, vitamins and minerals. To reduce costs, he hires a neighbor to make hay.
His cows have free-choice access to 16 substances in a box outside the barn door. The dairyman points out compartments filled with B vitamins, bentonite, buffers, calcium, copper, enzymes and yeast, iodine, kelp, magnesium, selenium, sulfur, vitamins A and D, and zinc.
"Sulfur's an important one. The cows feed on that a lot," Peters said.
Peters feeding methods work well. He said a veterinarian has been called once in the past 19 months; that was to treat a cow with a prolapsed uterus.
"When you have the correct nutrition going into the cows, you don't have red-hot quarters," Peters said. "Your cows breed back. You don't have the veterinary living at your doorstep. But you've got to have a healthy immune system."
Saying he "likes to learn from other farmers," Peters shared a tip he picked up years back: weed seeds.
He said the seeds of weeds that a fanning mill removes from small grains contain important amino acids. Feeding the seeds makes cows' sleek and shiny and boosts the butterfat test. His cows rise from a 4.0 test to 4.3 when they eat weed seeds.
Peters buys a gravity box of the seeds from a farmer and has them ground into flour. He uses the flour as a top-dressing.
"'Every herb,' the Bible says, 'of the field is given to man for his good.' That's true," Peters said.
Farm work and travel
While Peters stays plenty busy, he doesn't tackle the farm work alone. Employee John Kroning is in charge of manure management and fieldwork, leaving Peters to feed, milk and tend the calves.
Though he's happy as a cow in clover on his farm, he nevertheless likes to get away once in a while. He ticks off a list of a dozen countries he has visited.
"And I've been all over Old Mexico in my pickup truck for 17 days, hunting arrowheads in the mountains," he said.
He has a jar full of artifacts to prove it. There are tomahawk heads, scrapers, awls and a variety of points. One point stands out. It has a fluted base, denoting it as the "Clovis" style, named for the first discovery of the shape, in the skeleton of a mastodon, near Clovis, N. M.
That point, found on his father's farm in Illinois, "isn't supposed to be here," Peters said. He speculates that it wound up in the Midwest via Native Americans trading.
"[I traveled] to broaden my education," Peters said. "I have an inquisitive mind. I ask a lot of questions. I've met some colorful and very interesting people and engaged in some great discussions. And I'm just a hick kid from the cornstalks, out in Nowheresville..."
Adversity and ending his career
Peters has had his experienced sorrows. One was the death of a child. Another was a divorce after 25 years of marriage.
Adversities "can make you bitter or they can make you better," Peters said. "I refuse to be bitter. Eighty percent of most people's problems are self-inflicted. Twenty percent are a roll of the dice."
His dairying career might end soon. Peters is selling his farm to a couple from New York. Part of the arrangement includes letting him stay on five years.
He said he will miss milking.
"You go in there," Peters said, "and there's nobody bugging you. And tick, tick, tick, you can lay out your day's work, think your own thoughts, make your own plans and there's no pressure, no stress.
He said he is content where he is.
"I been all over the world. The best place I've seen to live is right here in Crawford County. It's beautiful," he said. "The people are the sweetest, most congenial, neighborly people."
His overriding philosophy might be: "It is not how long one lives on this earth that's important. It's the quality of life you have while you do live," Peters said. "People miss that. The richest Rockefeller should live as good as I do."