December 12, 2020 at 4:57 p.m.

Weiglein farm part of family for 150 years

Sesquicentennial dairy on its sixth generation
Aaron Weiglein preps for the evening milking at Oakdale Dairy near Brownsville, Wisconsin. Aaron is the sixth generation to run his family’s farm. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
Aaron Weiglein preps for the evening milking at Oakdale Dairy near Brownsville, Wisconsin. Aaron is the sixth generation to run his family’s farm. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

By Stacey [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

    BROWNSVILLE, Wis. – Oakdale Dairy reached a special milestone in 2020 when it celebrated its 150th anniversary. In the Weiglein family since 1865, this sesquicentennial farm located in Brownsville is owned by John and Bonnie Weiglein and run by their son, Aaron, and his wife, Lizzy.
    The farm was homesteaded in 1846 by Albert Hart. In 1865, John’s great-great grandfather, Andrew (Andreas) Weiglein, a native of Germany, bought the farm for $1,500. In 1905, Andrew sold the farm to John W. for $7,000, who then sold it to Art Sr. for $40,000 in 1940. John’s dad, Art Jr., bought the farm in 1980, and John bought it from his dad in 2006. Now, Aaron and Lizzy live on the farm with their 9-month-old son, A.J. Aaron is the sixth generation to run the Weiglein farm, and his son would be the seventh.
    “We’re unique in that we’ve stayed the same size all these years,” John said. “Experts say you should expand every 5-10 years, but I didn’t agree with that. We were milking 70 cows when I graduated from high school, and we’re still milking 70 today. We watch what we spend and take good care of our cows and manage to stay profitable.”
    John farmed with his father from 1983 until 1991 when he took over the farm. In 1999, he and Bonnie left the farm in favor of another family business they purchased from Bonnie’s aunt and uncle – an apple orchard known as Pieper’s Fruit Farm.
    Bonnie’s grandparents planted the first apple trees in 1934, and now the Weigleins grow 50 varieties of apples on 23 acres. Apples are sold at their on-farm store or customers can pick their own apples in the orchard.
    “Honey Crisp is our biggest seller,” Bonnie said.
    Homemade pressed apple cider and caramel apples are also for sale in the Weigleins’ store, along with other products from Wisconsin, such as maple syrup. In addition, the Weigleins also sell apples to grocery stores.
    After selling their cows, the Weigleins moved to the orchard, which is 4 miles away, but continued raising heifers and steers while renting out the house. Aaron was 3 years old and grew up working in the orchard, but his heart was in dairying. He ended up picking cows over apples.
    “I always knew I wanted to farm,” said Aaron, 24, who brought cows back to Oakdale Dairy in 2013 while in high school.  
    It was a plan in the making for a couple of years as Aaron and John bought heifer calves to build their herd. Starting out with about 40 head, Aaron purchased the rest of the cattle on his own, and by 2015, they were back up to 70 cows. Cows are milked in the original 36-stall stanchion barn that was built in the early 1900s and housed in a freestall barn that was upgraded in 2012. The Weigleins built a new calf barn in 2015 and a heifer shed in 2011.
    “This is a simple farm,” Aaron said. “We don’t push our cows, but we do feed good quality feed.”
    Other than 20 acres across the road sold off by Andrew in the late 1800s, the 140-acre farm is the same size today as it was when it entered the family many years ago. The Weigleins have also found heirlooms from bygone eras, such as a Civil War button, which they believed belong to Andrew, who served in the war.
    Aaron and Lizzy have made their home in the 1914 farmhouse, which they find to be a great place to raise their growing family. The couple met online on the dating website, Farmers Only. Even though Lizzy did not grow up on a farm, her love for country and the farming lifestyle drew her to her perfect match – a dairy farmer. Aaron and Lizzy are expecting their second child Dec. 31.
    John and Bonnie own the farm, while Aaron and Lizzy own the cattle and machinery. The farm operates with no hired help – just family. Aaron does all the milking, and John lends a hand on the farm in between his work at the orchard.
    “Milking is my favorite job,” Aaron said. “I find it calming. It’s a time when I can really think.”
    The orchard is a full-time, year-round job for John and Bonnie; however, John and Aaron have an arrangement that allows each one to take a week off in the summer while the other takes care of the dairy farm. This allowed Aaron and Lizzy to go to Hawaii for their honeymoon last year.
    “We start pruning the trees in January or February if there’s not a lot of snow, and we’ll prune until mid-June,” said John, who worked at the orchard part time after graduating from high school. “We also have to care for the little trees, mow the grass and thin the apples out by hand if the trees get too thick.”
    Surrounded by thousands of apple trees, the Weigleins start picking apples in the beginning of August and finish up by the end of October. They picked over 9,000 bushels of apples this year – the most in recent years.
    Pieper’s Fruit Farm is for sale as John and Bonnie are preparing for retirement and looking forward to slowing down a bit. Between the dairy farm and apple orchard, their time away is limited, and the Weigleins see retirement as an opportunity to travel and spend more time with family.  
    “We’re ready to cut back and enjoy life,” Bonnie said. “We plan to build a house near Aaron and Lizzy so we can be close to our grandchildren. We also have a grandson in Minnesota who we’d like to visit more often.”
    The Weigleins also have three daughters – Amberly, 27, Amy, 22, and Aleah, 13.  Amberly works at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and Amy will be graduating from college this month and pursuing a teaching career.
    John has fond memories of farming with his handicapped daughter, Becky, who passed away in 2016. A special family member who is dearly missed by all, Becky spent a lot of quality time in the barn with her dad.
    “When I milked cows, I set up a playpen in one of the old calf pens, and she would sleep while the vacuum pump ran,” John said. “As soon as the pump stopped, she would wake up. I miss those days.”
    While transitioning from generation to generation, the 150-year-old Weiglein farm has stood the test of time.
    “We’re in good shape for the next generation to take over 5 years or so down the road,” John said. “The farm is very similar to how it was long ago, and we plan to keep it that way.”
    His son agreed.
    “I have no interest in getting bigger,” Aaron said. “This is the right size for us.”


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