Orlin Fremstad checks his beef herd Oct. 26 on his farm near Osseo, Wisconsin. Orlin and his wife, Eileen, are exiting the dairy industry with plans to focus on their beef herd and spend more time with their grandchildren.
Orlin Fremstad checks his beef herd Oct. 26 on his farm near Osseo, Wisconsin. Orlin and his wife, Eileen, are exiting the dairy industry with plans to focus on their beef herd and spend more time with their grandchildren. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER
OSSEO, Wis. – Orlin and Eileen Fremstad have spent the last 47 years making the farm their top priority.
Throughout their career in the dairy industry, they have sold their cows and restarted with their heifers three times.
The Fremstads’ career in the dairy industry has allowed them to renovate their farm, raise two children, build a home and welcome six grandchildren. With almost five decades of dairying to their name, they are selling their dairy cows for the last time.
“This is going to be it this time,” Orlin said. “I’m 66 years old now.”
Eileen said after surviving many years of high interest rates and low milk prices, they are ready to spend more time with their grandchildren and their growing beef herd.
“We can’t do another winter,” Eileen said. “We started a beef herd a couple years ago, so at least we’ll still have that and still have time to get away.”
The Fremstads milk 50 cows in a tiestall barn near Osseo.
Their history on the farm goes back to 1975 when Orlin purchased the property out of foreclosure after graduating from high school.
Orlin took possession of the farm with only three animals to his name, his 4-H calf that had grown to have two offspring and $5,000.
Orlin obtained a young farmer loan to get up and running. Shortly after, he was able to work with a local bank to continue farming.
The farm was in dire need of repairs when Orlin bought it, with the barn doors hanging off their hinges and the tiestall barn packed so full of bedding and manure that the gutters were not visible. The house was also in poor shape.
“We found the chain for the barn cleaner and just kept digging,” Orlin said. “We cleaned the house out with a scoop shovel and gunny sacks.”
After getting married in 1977, the couple purchased an additional 80 acres of land with a good vein of fertile ground running through it. Shortly after, their lives were impacted with 18% interest rates and then a drought in the 1980s.
“We were highly leveraged on our personal property and paying 18% interest,” Eileen said. “Then the drought hit in ’88, and we had to buy four semi loads of hay that year. It was a lot of money.”
The couple had been hoping to build a house, but the plans were postponed due to the hard times they were facing financially. To make matters worse, the milk price fell in the mid- 1980s as well. The couple switched to milking three times a day in an effort to combat the low income. They did so for two years without any hired help.
Once more heifers started freshening in, they went back to milking twice a day while increasing cow numbers. Before long, the couple was switching the entire barn and milking more than 100 cows.
In 1998, they were burned out and sold half the cows. The following year, the rest of the cows were sold, and the Fremstads were left with only their youngstock.
“That was going to be it for farming,” Orlin said. “We were selling springing heifers 10 at a time to a cattle jockey.”
With no cows to milk, Eileen went to work as a certified nursing assistant for a nursing home, and Orlin started driving a semi. In 2001, less than a year into the job, he ended up purchasing the semi and joining a small company hauling fuel.
It did not take very long for Orlin to miss farming.
“I would sit in that semi and haul to a fuel terminal by Stevens Point,” Orlin said. “I’d come back through Clark County, and those barn lights were on. I’d rather be there than here. So, we got down to those last 50 heifers, and I said that’s it, the rest are staying.”
The couple spent the next few years balancing working off the farm, driving semi and milking cows. They built the herd up to 85 cows. Eileen had to be to the nursing home by 6 a.m., and many times, Orlin would get up with her, do chores and get in the semi four hours later. After driving all day, he would get home in time to help Eileen do chores before going on another route all night.
“The hardest part about driving that semi was you’d get done with your chores and get in that truck and just sit there,” Orlin said. “It got to the point where I had to get out of that truck.”
Orlin quit driving semi and continued farming. In 2009, they sold 35 cows, leaving them with a barn full. They slowly built the numbers up again by calving in their heifers. In 2008, when Orlin was 62 years old, they sold the entire herd with the intention of slowing down.
It was not long before Orlin missed his cows again.
“About two weeks after we sold our cows, I was walking around the farm like I was lost,” Orlin said. “So, I told her one more time. We started freshening in heifers and built the barn up again.”
Four years later, Orlin and Eileen are ready to sell their cows for the last time. After starting a beef herd a couple of years ago, the couple is looking forward to spending more time with their children and grandchildren. Their daughter and her husband live in Mineral Point with their children, while their son lives in Eau Claire with his wife and children.
 When reflecting on 47 years in the dairy industry, Eileen said she is grateful to have survived.
“Our generation went through a lot of hard times with high interest rates and low milk prices,” Eileen said. “It was a lot of work. But, there were so many good years with the kids growing up and being in sports and snowmobiling on the weekends.”
Orlin said that although it was hard to spend so many hours in the semi while trying to keep the farm going, the money he earned allowed them to build a house in 1993 and put both their kids through college without any debt.
“Dairying is strange because the good times come so gradually,” Orlin said. “You don’t realize how good you’re doing until something happens and it’s not there anymore.”
The couple is already anticipating the growth of their beef herd.
“Who knows how long we’ll do beef,” Eileen said. “But once the cows are gone, we can really concentrate on the beef.”
Orlin said the beef cows will help to keep him busy.
“This farm wouldn’t be a farm without animals,” Orlin said. “It’s how we’ve paid for it.”