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Selling the cows: A good decision at the right time

April 23, 2014 | 0 comments

"All equipment was purchased new by Don and Leta. Always housed with excellent paint and super maintained. Machinery used on 200 acre farm. 72 head of super quality Holstein dairy cows, heifers and bull."

That was part of the lead paragraph in the Wisconsin State Farmer ad announcing the auction being held last Saturday at Creek View Dairy Farm, near Brooklyn, owned by Don and Leta Luchsinger.

That description, combined with the weather forecast predicting a sunny day with temperatures in the 70s, drew me and a good many others to this farm auction. The fact that the herd of cows was on the auction bill was also an attraction because nowadays, dairy herds are more often being sold at auction barns, often located some distance from the farm rather than on the farm itself.

Besides, farm auctions have historically been about a lot more than just selling things; they are sort of a community get-together, a town hall meeting and a justifiable day off from regular farm work.

Anyway, the crowd was big, and as the day progressed, proved to have money in its pockets and a willingness to spend it.

I missed the sale of Luchsinger's forage equipment but onlookers assured me the hay bagger, wagons, chopper and other forage equipment went for premium prices.

The several rows of bagged hay were being sold as I arrived, and the last one, an 8-foot bag, 98 feet long of first crop alfalfa, sold for $27.50 a foot.

Some 500 small bales of straw in the barn went for $2.25 a bale.

Every farm auction has a flat rack, pickup load or pile of odds and ends — things that don't fit into a given category — that are sold at a fast and furious pace. It's always interesting what people will pay for the misfits and leftovers (forks to fly spray) that are stored in the milk house or shed.

It seems like every box full of "stuff," including opened cartons or broken hand tools, had a ready buyer. "I'll bet the buyers knew exactly what was in those boxes," a spectator said. " They probably wanted just one thing and will junk the rest."

Probably so.

Shelly Johnson, who milks 45 cows near Dayton, paid $10 for a barn scraper and $5 apiece for two forks. "I'm happy," she said. "I paid fifty dollars for just one new fork the other day."

The DeLaval floor milking bucket, with all working parts and ready to use, was slow in getting bids until auctioneer Tom Bidlingmaier suggested that this was just the thing dairy exhibitors at World Dairy Expo need to milk their cows, and they are very scarce.

With that encouragement, the bidding went to a $140, and finally, the milker went home with Jake Soleberg of Oregon who isn't exactly sure what he will do with it — yet.

With everything else now with new owners, the B-M Auctions pickup moved to the back door of the dairy barn where gates had been arranged to form a small sale ring, and the dairy cow auction was about to begin.

High milk prices prompt demand for cows

There was a big crowd — a huge crowd actually — for a sale of grade cows, all the result of being bull-bred for many years (The auction ad said "one of the best bull-bred herds you will see in a long time ... the Luchsingers have always used registered bulls). 

In contrast to many farm sales where a few bidders (maybe a couple of farmers and several cattle dealers) compete, there was spirited bidding from many directions. 

Early on, cow prices hit $3,300 and peaked at $3,500 for a cow milking at 100 pounds a day (her calf went for $600).

The 40 cows continued in demand throughout the sale with $2,500-$3,000 as common ending bids, and the bull brought $2,300.

The sale ended with a fitting climax as a young farmer from near Evansville took home two 3-month-old heifer calves for $1,400 apiece, a price that brought expressions of wonderment from many in the still-large crowd. 

"No calf is worth that much, " a nearby bystander quietly uttered. 

"Wrong," his friend responded. "That was the price he bid, fair and square; he must have a need and a plan to make it work.

Joe Cepress, a young dairyman milking 30 cows in Pittsville, ended up with four cows.

"My wife Marie and I have 90 head of livestock all told, including beef, and built a new barn two years ago," he says. "I do some landscaping also, but farming is where we center our efforts. I think I bought some good cows."

I'm very happy

I caught up with Don, the farm owner, who had been seated in the camper top of the pickup alongside the sale clerk and auctioneer during the auction. He came down the steep step at the back of the pickup with a big, broad smile on his face and in response to a friends question of "how do you like those prices" responded, "I'm very happy, you never know what an auction will bring, but I'm very happy." 

Although we had never met, Don was a regular reader of this column and wanted me to know that this was a Century Farm dating to 1903 and that he and Leta were looking forward to taking part in the Century Farm and Home Program to be held at the Wisconsin State Fair in August.

"I'm the third Luchsinger to farm this land and no doubt the last," he said. "I had hopes that my son Andrew might continue the farm, but he lives and works in the Twin Cities.

"Farming is always what I wanted to do, and I've enjoyed it. My brother Alvin and I took over from my dad 52 years ago, and I eventually bought him out. I farm about 250 acres and plan to continue raising cash crops now that the cows are gone."

Was it hard to leave the dairy business after so long?

"Yes," Don said. "I prayed about it for a long time, and on March 31, made the decision to sell the cows. I feel good; it was the right decision at the right time."

A final question: Why did you use a bull and not artificial insemination for all those years you dairied, and did you ever get hurt by a bull?

"Mainly because I had a lot of difficulty detecting cows in heat," Don says. "I always bought registered bulls from top Holstein breeders like Towns at Janesville and Larsons at Evansville. Yes, a bull got me down some years ago — threw me against a fence — but didn't come after me. I was lucky."

The task at hand for the Luchsingers is to get the crops planted, fix a few thing in need and later take a trip or two and enjoy life.

Not a bad plan after milking cows for 52 years. 

Thus another dairy herd leaves the Wisconsin dairy scene. Some will say, "See, he was forced out by those big dairy farmers!" Nope — Don Luchsinger left dairying by choice. He had a great run of over 50 years and as he said, "Farming is what I wanted to do and I enjoyed it." What could be better?

John F Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or email him at jfodairy@chorus.net.

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