March 24, 2023 at 8:28 p.m.
A lasting legacy
“I always liked to milk cows,” Bill said. “Even when we work all day in the fields and have to come home to milk cows, I always feel like I got a second wind.”
Bill milks 55 cows with his wife, Lori, and his son, Paul, near Cashton.
While the cows are housed in the original stanchion barn, the farm has seen its share of changes since Bill’s ancestor, Lambert Hansen, purchased the farm in 1865.
When Bill was in high school, he and his dad worked together to complete chores. At that time, the family usually milked around 60 cows, and one year they were up to 80 cows. The milking was done with buckets, and Bill would haul 20 cans of milk to the nearby cheese factory before going to school in the morning.
“We used to have to carry the cans over to the little house,” Bill said. “That’s when they had the cement tank with the water in it, and you’d set the cans in the water to cool.”
Later, a can cooler was installed. Cans would slide into the cooler, and when switched on, it would spray ice water over the buckets to cool the milk. Eventually, a bulk tank was installed, and the family used a Step-Saver to pump the milk from the buckets to the bulk tank.
“I couldn’t imagine doing that anymore,” Bill said.
The farm consists of 200 tillable acres. It is one of the first farms in the area to utilize contour strips, which Bill’s dad and grandfather implemented in the early 1950s. The strips are planted to a corn and oat rotation, and they stretch a mile long and 70 feet wide in some areas.
Bill started renting the farm from his dad after high school. He and Lori got married in 1986 and had three children: Paul, Ashley and Caitlin. Shortly after they were married, they installed a pipeline in the barn. Bill then purchased the farm from his dad in 2002.
One of the first improvements Bill implemented was putting up a Harvestore silo. The silo measures 14 feet wide and 48 feet high. They have mostly used it to store ground corn. Bill said he enjoyed watching the construction process.
“When they got done, they raised it up and moved the whole silo over and sat it on the footer,” Bill said. “It was quite impressive.”
In 2016, a total mixed ration was introduced to the farm. They had been using an old-fashioned type of feeding wagon and upgraded when Bill was scheduled to be laid up after back surgery.
“I thought, if I was going to have help doing chores, I wanted something reliable,” Bill said. “We’ve used that ever since.”
Bill said one of the most challenging days in his career was Easter Sunday five years ago. While running the barn cleaner with the cows in the barn, a capacitor was loose on the manure auger motor. This caused an electric shock to somehow go through the barn and killed 10 cows in their stalls. At the time, Bill was outside next to the idling tractor, and the auger was also running, so he did not even know it happened. Paul was in the barn pitching a pen pack into the gutter as the chain went around. He called his mother, who was preparing breakfast in the house, so she could alert Bill to switch everything off.
Insurance paid for the cows and the associated electrician fees, but there was nothing that could erase the tragic memory of losing 10 good cows in one moment.
“I would say that would have to be the worst thing we’ve ever had to overcome,” Bill said. “We still don’t know why it didn’t trip the breaker or anything.”
Paul has been taking a more active role in the farm since graduating from high school about seven years ago. Bill said his mechanical abilities have been a good asset to the operation. While Bill plans to help his son as long as he can, Paul will likely take over the management within the next few years. Bill said that future possibly will include an upgrade to a parlor and freestall barn to keep the dairy going.
“Paul plans to take over, and I’ll help him,” he said. “My dad was here until he was 86, and he always helped to do tractor work and stuff. So, I’ll help Paul.”