It takes a lot of skill and hard work and a little luck for a family to successfully farm on the same farm for 100 years. Last summer, Doug and Jane Mueller of Fall Creek received an award at the Wisconsin State Fair recognizing their family for 100 years of continuous ownership.
Doug's grandfather Rudolph Mueller purchased the farm in 1906. Doug's father, Kenneth, grew up on the farm and farmed with his father and later with Doug until his death in 1995.
"We're very proud that this farm has been in our family for 100 years," Doug says.
Even though Doug helped with chores and fieldwork on the farm when he was growing up, he never planned to be a farmer.
"When I graduated from high school, farming was the last thing I wanted to do," he admits. "Both of my brothers went into the military and at various times came back to the farm, but it didn't work out. So I stayed home and helped my dad farm."
Doug started farming full time with his parents after graduating from high school in 1972. Over the years, he took a farm course through the technical college. Four years after he started farming, Doug and his parents incorporated the farm which is known as Mueller Hilltop Farms, Inc.
"When my wife and I got married, she was brought into the corporation," Doug explains. "The corporation today consists of my wife, myself and my mom, Kathleen."
The Muellers farm 420 acres – 240 acres owned and 180 rented acres.
"The original farm consisted of 120 acres," Doug explains. "In 1976, we started renting additional land. We bought 120 acres in the late 1970s."
Their crop program includes 170 acres of alfalfa, 110 acres of corn, 50 acres of soybeans and 40 acres of oats.
For the past 30 years, the Muellers have been selling surplus hay to neighbors.
"We sell one third of our alfalfa as dried baled hay to local horse owners," Doug says. "We have a lot of people moving out of Eau Claire to live in the country and they have horses. We currently have five customers. I sell some excess corn, our oats and about 75% of our soybeans. The remainder is fed to the dairy herd and heifers."
Nearly all of their land is classified as highly-erodible with some as steep as 30% slope. The Muellers began conservation tillage in 1983 with the use of a disc-chisel to incorporate manure and crop residue. All land is cropped according to a conservation plan started in 1984 and updated each year.
The Muellers keep the 51 stalls in their barn filled with milking cows. Nine dry cows are housed at a second farm.
Newborn calves are raised in hutches along the south side of the barn. At weaning, calves are moved into the dairy barn in group pens with freestalls. Pens are cleaned daily when gutters are cleaned. When heifers are pregnant, they are moved to the second farm. They return to the main farm 10 days prior to calving. Their herd averages 22,000 pounds of milk per cow.
Farm employee Larry Duerkop has worked for the Muellers fulltime since 1998.
"Larry and I do pretty much the majority of farm work," Doug explains. Jane works off the farm as a substitute teacher. Their oldest son Peter, 19, is a student at Chippewa Valley Technical College majoring in diesel mechanics. He has an off farm job and helps with two milkings a week. Son Steven, 14, is an eighth grader at South Middle School in Eau Claire and helps on an as needed basis. Daughter Meg, 23, graduated from University of Wisconsin-River Falls and is currently a student at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. After graduation, she plans to become a large animal vet.
Rolling with the punches
Shortly after receiving the Centennial Farm Award at State Fair last August, the Muellers learned some bad news.
"Last August we found out I had prostate cancer," Doug says. "It's already spread to my bones."
Doug says while the news was disappointing, he is trying to make the best of the situation that he can.
"We went through this with my dad," he says. "My father died of prostate cancer and now I have it. I'm thinking there's got to be a reason this happened. I try to tell everyone I know to get an exam if they're 50 or older and get an annual PSA count because this disease is fairly treatable if caught in the early stages.
Doug says he's not fighting cancer alone.
"The entire family is fighting this disease," he says.
Doug says since last August, he's learned to take life one day at a time.
"I keep a positive attitude," he says. "The community support has been overwhelming. At this point the farm is the least of my worries. My biggest fear is leaving my wife and kids with everything to take care of here."
Early in their farming career, Doug and Jane became active in their community and church and they still are. Doug is past president of the Eau Claire Memorial FFA Alumni and Jane is the current president. Doug participated in the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program from 2000-2002 and Jane was a participant from 2002-2004. Doug is district president of the Associated Milk Producers Inc. and is an annual meeting delegate. Jane serves on the Resolutions Committee. He is president of the Eau Claire County Dairy Promotion, while Jane serves as dairy ambassador. Doug is past president of the Eau Claire County Farm Bureau, is a board member, and membership chairman. He also served on the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Dairy Advisory Committee. Jane is the general leader of Pleasant Valley Clover 4-H Club and Doug is a project leader. Doug also serves on the Town of Washington Comprehensive Planning Commission. Doug is currently serving as congregation president of Zion Lutheran Church in Cleghorn.
They have won a number of awards including AMPI Young Cooperator – Top 4; Wisconsin Farm Bureau Young Farmer – Top 10; Wisconsin Forage Council Outstanding Forager of the Year, Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce Service to Agriculture Award and West Central Land Conservation Farmer of the Year.
During the 2004 presidential campaign, Doug was asked if he would be interested in participating in a discussion on stage during a town hall meeting with President George W. Bush. "There were a couple of issues I talked to him about – repealing the death tax and expanding the use of bio-fuels," Doug says.
While there have been some bumps along the way, Doug is pretty contented with his career choice.
"Farming can be a rewarding way of life," he says. "If it's managed correctly and debt is kept low, even a small farm like ours can be profitable."
Location: Eau Claire County
Farming enterprises: Dairy, crops
Size of farm: 420 acres
Number of cattle: 65 Holstein cows, 60 dairy heifers
Years farming: 34
Family: Wife Jane, one daughter, two sons