A little gruff

By Tina Hinchley, Farmer & Columnist


The break in the cold weather is wonderful for us, but it creates extra work.

We have calf pens to pitch out. The bedding pack needs to be loaded into the spreader and hauled to the fields, and we need to clean the chicken coop. All of these are chores make our day a bit longer, yet make us feel good when finished.

I love to see the calves jumping and rolling in the new straw, calling out their moos. The close to freshening cows rush into the clean bedding pack and start kicking around and shuffling the straw to make a nice nest to have a calf. The chickens start to chatter and cluck with excitement, scratching for any wheat seeds that might be in the straw. All the hens are so happy to see fresh straw in their nesting boxes.

The snow piles are starting to melt, and since the ground isn’t frozen, it is soaking into the soil. This might affect the drought areas throughout the state, putting extra moisture into the fields for this year’s crops. The puddles and muddy areas are throughout the driveway, and I am cautious to not drive through them because they just get bigger and bigger.

Duane has pushed around the snow piles to encourage the melting snow to stay out of the buildings and melt in areas that we are not driving in. I am certain we will be having more snow yet this winter, so the piles may be there when the next storm warning hits our area.

The warmer weather brings thoughts of spring tours for many of the teachers throughout the Madison, Milwaukee and Janesville areas. They have been reaching out to make a reservation for their classes. It is nice hearing that this field trip is their favorite, so they want to make sure they not only get their date on the calendar, but also secure busing. There simply are not enough bus drivers. We are working through all the loops to make sure that it will be another favorite school trip.

Reservations for senior group tours have been coming in since the fall. Community groups, church groups and traveling seniors have been making plans to stop at our farm to see the cows and robots. Many of these seniors are retired dairy farmers, and they get a kick out of watching the robots milk the cows and the robots that push the manure and the feed. We have a couple of groups that will be having box lunches delivered, but most are heading off to visit other attractions that Wisconsin has to offer. I love to see seniors who are not letting their age hold them back. We often have visitors in their 90s getting on the wagon and walking through the barns.

I enjoy hosting tours of our farm. It makes me feel like I am connecting with the students, families, seniors and international visitors. I am confident and feel I have information that our visitors would like to hear. I share facts, but also stories, and I listen to them share about where they are from, if they are farming or if they have farmed.

After two hours, we have become friends, and the children from families are all warmed up, talking and laughing. It is an educational tour, but there is also an emotional connection. Hosting tours for over 25 years has been such a wonderful thing for me emotionally. I’ve interacted with children who want to be a farmer, parents who realize that whole milk is not all cream, and seniors who wish they had robots, because they would still be farming. Every tour has a moment that is special.

I have learned that I have given a lot of time to visitors. As I get older and have watched my kids grow up, I wish I had spent more time with my family. I am now only hosting tours for families on weekends and Wednesdays starting in the spring through the fall. School and groups are weekdays, usually May and October, and summer school programs are just a few too.

Interested farmers who might be considering doing tours have asked me if I ever turn people away. It depends on who it is. If it is someone we know or an international visitor, I might have time. For people who don’t plan ahead or simply show up thinking our farm is an open business to walk around, the answer is always, “No, I am sorry. Our insurance doesn’t allow for visitors without a guide.”

This past week, I woke up to a phone message, text message and also an email from two gals coming into Chicago from New York. They wanted to come to the farm that day. I tried to explain that with the warm weather, my day was booked full with extra chores and I would not be able to squeeze a tour in. The reality is that often a tour can be much longer than two hours when people ask a lot of questions or simply want to hang around. My day was planned to make sure the animals would have fresh bedding. I did not want to do the tour.

I was bottle feeding calves with Anna when the phone call came again. I was holding bottles, with the phone up to my ear with my shoulder. I didn’t recognize the number. They were insistent that this would be the highlight of their visit to the Midwest. I repeated that we were going to be working together to get all of the pens cleaned, and I couldn’t do it. The gal replied, “We can help.”

Now, realize I made it clear that I would not be able to squeeze a tour in. It isn’t often that I get irritated. But I said, “I really don’t have time to show you how to use a pitchfork.” When that rolled off of my tongue, Anna’s eyes widened, wondering what the phone call was about. Anna said, “That was a little gruff. You should have said that would be a liability.”

My response didn’t matter to the gal from New York. She replied, “We are fast learners.” In the end, I encouraged them to check other farms in the area. I did not give them a tour and thoroughly enjoyed cleaning pens.

Tina Hinchley, her husband Duane and daughter Anna milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots.  They also farm 2,300 acres near Cambridge, Wisconsin. The Hinchleys have been hosting farm tours for over 25 years.


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