'When people come to Wisconsin, they want to see cows.' Mother-daughter farm duo provide tours
Wisconsin’s dairy industry generates $46.5 billion in economic impact and 154,000 jobs for the state annually, constituting nearly 50% of the total Wisconsin agriculture contribution, according to the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.
Notably, they’re also seeing a rise in female farmers in the state. Mother-daughter duo Tina Hinchley and Anna Hinchley Skadahl are among the female farmers leading the way.
Back in 1958, the Hinchley family started with just 11 cows. Tina married into the family 24 years ago, and soon after took things to the next level, adding Hinchley’s Dairy Farm Tours. Now, visitors from around the world come to their farm in Cambridge to pet, milk and learn about cows.
Today, under Tina and Anna, the farm has also grown to more than 200 milking cows. They’ve also utilized robotics and technology to make farming even more sustainable and accessible for future generations.
Anna, who graduated from UW-Madison in May, recently joined her mother, Tina, a breast cancer survivor, for a phone interview to talk about their family farm and why women might consider agriculture and dairy as a career.
Question: What defines a family farm today? How have you seen things shift?
Tina: Over my course of being a dairy farmer, we have seen some ups and downs. I think overall, as time has gone on, farmers have gotten better at farming. We are more sustainable than we have ever been. … Our carbon footprint has shrunk by 20%.
Q: What surprised you the most when looking at dairy farming and agriculture as a career?
Anna: There’s really not that many dairy kids out there, we’re kind of a dying breed. We need more farmers. We have to keep clothing and feeding people three times a day, and the numbers of farmers are declining.
Q: What do you see as a next generation dairy farmer in Wisconsin?
Anna: I always knew I wanted to farm. In high school I had to figure out what I wanted to do. I loved working with my parents, so do I continue crop farm or dairy? I went to University of Wisconsin-Madison for dairy science. My class was made up of 70% women for my graduating class. That is crazy to think that, because it was dominated by men a few years ago.
Not necessarily were all those people going to come back to their dairy farms. It is the production, processing, sales, service, how the food gets to the store, all that has to do with the dairy industry and agriculture itself. These ladies are finding out you don’t necessarily need to be a dairy farmer, but there’s a major shortage of people working in the dairy industry. They know it will be a rewarding field and there is room to climb up the ladder. There is a need for people to be in agriculture.
Q: What made you decide to offer dairy farm tours? What’s one thing you want every visitor to the farm to learn?
Tina: I started giving dairy farm tours when I was pregnant with Anna and her twin sister over 22 years ago. We went on a school outing to a pumpkin patch that was not giving out the correct information. I really felt the agricultural community needed to have honest answers and to be told that just because it is black and white and it moves doesn’t mean it is a cow. There are different things it is important that a consumer knows. It is a cow when it is lactating.
After we did the field trip, my son and I and my husband decided it was best if we brought the school kids out to our farm so we could show them our farm. We’ve been doing this now for more than 22 years.
Q: Who is the audience for your dairy farm tours?
Tina: When people come to Wisconsin, they want to see cows. I’m going to brag a bit, we are also number one on Google when you do a search for dairy farm tours in Wisconsin. When people want to find a place where they can milk a cow and experience a real dairy farm, we are number one. That’s unique.
Q: What is a basic day on a dairy farm?
Tina: You don’t get a sick day. For most dairy farmers, the day starts really early. We are typically working 14 hours a day …
When I’m hosting tours, people will say “There are a lot of farms around here.” Our road we are on is Highway 73. There are 20 little barns just like my father and mother-in-law started, but at this point in time there are only three farms still milking cows.
Q: How does technology influence the way you farm today?
Tina: Now the robots actually milk. … There are more farmers going into the latest technology. Part of it is a labor thing, part of it is they can continue milking as they age. There are a lot of benefits to having robotic milking.
Q: Where does your milk end up?
Tina: We were with Dean Foods, and now we’re with DFA, a procurer. Ninety percent of the milk in Wisconsin is still going to cheese plants.
Q: Is there ever a day that goes by that you don’t have dairy?
Tina: No. For Anna’s wedding she actually had a four-tier cheese tower instead of a cake.
Anna: It was fabulous! We did have an actual cake, my mom made it. The cheese tower, there were four different types of cheese with the beer and wine we were pairing.
Tina: We made a cheddar at a cheese plant in Sheboygan. During a “making more from milk” conference, we made this cheese. Two years later, the guy who made it, Cesar (Luis) says I’m pulling the cheese out now.
Anna: We had a two-year-old cheddar, and it made the whole event above what we could have imagined.