Hinkeldeys continue farming into next decade

Family reflects on time in 10-year-old facilities

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WINDOM, Minn. – While many things remain the same at the Hinkeldey family dairy farm, a few changes have taken place during the past decade.
Dairy Star first visited the Hinkeldey family in April 2012, shortly after they completed a new dairy facility that included a double-8 Parabone milking parlor.
“In hindsight, there are very few things I would have changed about our dairy facilities,” said Jeff Hinkeldey. “For example, it would have been nice to have bigger free stalls, but you have to work with the resources that you have at the time.”
Just as it did 10 years ago, the Windom farm includes Jeff and his brother, James. Jeff and James each have three children; some of them were still at home a decade ago and both of their wives were working at off-farm jobs.
James’ wife, Angela, continues to work at Toro in Windom. Their eldest son, Marcus, is now a mechanic at Midwest Machinery in Mountain Lake. Middle son Ryan works on the family dairy farm. James and Angela’s youngest son, Marcus, is employed at HitchDoc in Jackson.
Jeff’s wife, Sheryl, is employed at Colonial Manor in Lakefield. Their oldest daughter, Ashley, lives in Mitchell, South Dakota, and is married to Patrick Scott. Daughter Bridgette is married to AJ Lusk and lives in Jackson, where they operate a photography business. The Lusks have a daughter, Carly. Jeff and Sheryl’s son, Austin, is married to Carly. They live in Bingham Lake and have a son, Hudson, and are expecting a baby daughter.
What has not changed is that the Hinkeldeys continue to milk about 130 Holsteins and farm about 375 acres.
“We have had some tough years,” Jeff said. “We’ve had to deal with drought and low milk prices. During the peak of the (coronavirus) pandemic, we had to dump milk a couple of times. We have had some trouble with high death loss in our calves, but we feel that we’ve got that figured out now.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed is that James and Jeff’s parents, Willis and Sharon, continue to live on the family farm. Willis is 83, and Sharon is 80.
“Up until last fall, Dad was still hauling silage wagons for us,” Jeff said. “His favorite job was running the windrower to cut our hay.”
This changed recently when Willis, who has dealt with multiple sclerosis for more than 40 years, underwent quadruple bypass surgery. Willis developed a postsurgical urinary tract infection and later developed COVID-19. It would be 54 days before he was able to return home.
“I drove myself to the hospital in Sioux Falls for my heart operation,” Willis said. “Even though I had been feeling fine, Sharon signed us up for a cardiac scan. This led to some additional tests that found that some of my arteries were 95% plugged. This year is the first time in over 60 years that I didn’t windrow hay.”
Tough times are nothing new for the Hinkeldeys.
“Sharon and I got married in 1960 and moved onto this farm,” Willis said. “We had nothing to our names except for a desire to make a go of it. This farm had no electricity or running water when we moved here. My wife’s father helped us remodel and modernize the farm house.”
It was not long before Willis and Sharon launched themselves into dairying.
“We built a 3-cow single side release milking parlor in 1961 and continued to use it until the boys built their new parlor in 2012,” Willis said. “A tornado tore across our farmstead in 1983 and caused some minor damage. Another tornado hit us in 2000, damaging every building on the farm. It even caused one of our stave silos to become out of round.”
Jeff credits the Farm Service Agency for helping their operation survive the lean times.
“I would encourage any young farmer who is starting out to work with the FSA,” Jeff said. “They have a lot of programs to help you out. It involves a lot of paperwork and recordkeeping, but it’s worth it. We paid ahead on our loans when we could, and the FSA stood by us when we needed to delay some of our installments.”
Other changes at the Hinkeldey farm have to do with young people.
“About six years ago, we began to host a tour every October for the Jackson Cub Scout troop,” Jeff said. “The kids really enjoy learning about dairy farming. If they want, we will even let them attach a milking unit to a cow. They get a big kick out of that. And when the tour is over, we send them home with string cheese.”
The Hinkeldeys have sold Associated Milk Producers Inc. cheese and butter on their farm for the past several years.
“I showed my first dairy cow at the Minnesota State Fair in 1974,” Jeff said. “Our family continued to show dairy cattle at the state fair every year until 2018, when Ryan finished high school.”
But, the Hinkeldey family hopes to soon return to the dairy cattle show ring.
“I have a grand-niece who loves to show dairy cattle and will likely show at the state fair next year,” Jeff said. “We also have some neighbor kids who are interested in leasing dairy cattle to show. We will be glad to teach them everything they need to know.”
The Hinkeldey family can trace their Minnesota roots back to 1903, when Willis’ grandparents moved from Kansas to Minnesota and purchased a farm located just a few miles from the place where the Hinkeldeys operate their dairy.
“We are going to do everything we can to help the next generation get started in farming, just as my parents helped James and me,” Jeff said.
Ryan, too, hopes to continue farming.
“I enjoy working with my family,” he said. “I would like to keep our dairy farming tradition going.”

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