CGP Community Stories

Matthew Wichowsky, November 23, 2016

Title

Matthew Wichowsky, November 23, 2016

Subject

Farming
Cows
Farming Equipment
Hay
Corn
Strip Cropping
Milking Equipment
Milk Companies
Big Farming Business
Small Farming Business
John Deere
Allis Chalmers
New Holland
Butter Fat
Silo
Clover ‘C’ Farms
Machinery
Barn

Description

Matthew Wichowsky has always been a farmer. He was born in Cobleskill, New York and moved around to different homes during the early part of his childhood before settling in Dutchess County, New York, or more specifically in Lagrangeville. He grew up in a farming environment with his father farming for a few years before working on someone else’s farm. From a young age, Matthew worked on neighboring farms and knew that is what he wanted to do when he was older.

In the 1980s, he moved to Starkville, New York to work on his uncle’s farm for a few years all the while searching for a farm to call his own. Finally, in the late 1980s, he was successful in finding a farm and rented it for a few years before buying it outright in 1989. In total, Matthew worked on that farm for twenty-five years. He began the farm as a dairy industry and for the last eight years on the farm, it served as the center for his hay business. As a small business farmer, Matthew relied mainly on himself to take care of the cows, plant the crops, and maintain the farm overall.

Matthew has few recollections of his childhood and is vague about his early farming experience. Matthew talked mostly about some of the larger aspects of farming such as the milking equipment, farming income, and taking care of the animals as well as changes from farming in the 1980s to the early 2000s to the difficulty farming in this area now.

I interviewed Matthew in his home. He has been out of the dairy business for eleven years now and off the farm completely for the last three years. Currently, he drives school buses for the Mount Markham Central School District. Matthew is also my father.

Matthew talks slowly and carefully. He tries to pick his words and phrases wisely. He often started each response with an exasperated “well” which I have chosen to leave out. Sometimes, he began a sentence one way but changed it during the middle to go in a different direction. I tried to maintain some of that disconnect as it speaks to his memories; however, for clarity, words have been added to make the sentences flow.

Creator

Alexa Wichowsky

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2016-11-23

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association

Format

audio/mpeg
27.4mB
audio/mpeg
25.5mB
image/jpeg
1.03mB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

16-014

Coverage

Upstate New York
1958-2016
Cooperstown, NY

Interviewer

Alexa Wichowsky

Interviewee

Matthew Wichowsky

Location

156 Gulf Rd
West Winfield, NY

Transcription

MW= Matthew Wichowsky
AW= Alexa Wichowsky

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

AW:
Today is the 23rd of November 2016. This is the interview of Matthew Wichowsky by Alexa Wichowsky in the Wichowsky Family home. So, why don’t we start with when and where were you born?
MW:
February 11th
AW:
What year?
MW:
[19]58
AW:
Where were you born?
MW:
Cobleskill, New York
AW:
Where were you raised as a child? What different places were you raised as a child?
MW:
Started out in Cobleskill then we went to Palatine Bridge where my father bought a farm. From there we went down to Amenia, New York. Then we went to Pennsylvania, down to Southern Lancaster County it was. They called it a little hamlet of---I think it was Lemasters. We ended up after a couple years or so came to Dutchess County, which is in New York State. [We] stayed there for a long time.
AW:
What type of farm did your father own?
MW:
A dairy farm.
AW:
How long did he have that farm for?
MW:
I was pretty young then. Maybe four or five years I guess, I don’t know.
AW:
Why did he give it up?
MW:
I don’t know what happened there. I was so young I just don’t remember hardly anything about that.
AW:
Ok. When did you work on your first farm?
MW:
Probably it was when we were in Dutchess County down there around Lagrangeville.
AW:
Whose farm was it?
MW:
Well, my father was working for a big beef farmer [and] a hog farmer. It was Karl Ahmer’s farm. I was helping out a little odds and ends and stuff like that.
AW:
How long were you working on that farm?
MW:
Well, three or four years, I guess.
AW:
Was that the only farm that you worked on when you were younger?
MW:
No. When we moved out in the country where Karl Ahmer had another farm, there was a dairy farm next to it [This was the farm of Bill Parliament]. We were getting milk and stuff from them and my other brother was working there. Then we were helping out. I was helping out. Everyone was helping out there. When he left [his brother], after he got done with school I kind of took over.
AW:
Which brother was that?
MW:
Steven.
AW:
Were you close with your brother?
MW:
Yeah.
AW:
[Laughter] Then, when he left did you take on more responsibilities at that farm?
MW:
Well, I was there when I wasn’t in school.
AW:
How did that farming experience influence how you farmed later on?
MW:
It taught me a lot of stuff. How to do everything.
AW:
Such as?
MW:
How to use the equipment, all of the equipment. The tractors and milk cows and diagnose cows.
AW:
What type of farm equipment did they have?
MW:
It was all old stuff. Case International, Allis Chalmers, John Deere.
AW:
What type of milking equipment did they have?
MW:
It was called a Universal. It was bucket milkers.
AW:
Can you talk about what that means?
MW:
The milk machine when the cows get milked it goes into a bucket. Well some [would] hold forty/fifty pounds of milk they would. Our situation, we would carry it up to the bulk tank and dump it into a screen, like a filter system, and then it would get filtered before it goes into the bulk tank.
AW:
How long did that usually take every morning and night?
MW:
It was a couple of hours every morning and every night.
AW:
How big was their herd?
MW:
I think he kept around fifty/sixty milkers and probably that many fifty/sixty young stock.
AW:
Was his farm pretty big compared to some of the other farms in the area or?
MW:
No small. It had a lot of rented land.
AW:
How much land did he have?
MW:
He only owned a hundred acres. We worked another hundred-two hundred acres.
AW:
What crops did he plant?
MW:
It was just all hay and corn, oats. He made his own feed for his cows.
AW:
Is he still alive?
MW:
No he’s not. I don’t know the exact year---2006 or 2007 maybe he died.
AW:
When did you stop working for him?
MW:
I was probably there… I think I started when I was…I think I took over from my brother probably when I was around thirteen/fourteen. I started working there when I wasn’t in school. I think I stayed there at least ten years. At least ten years.
AW:
When did you know it was time to move onto a different farm?
MW:
Farming down there in that area was---there was no future down there. A lot of developments. There was a huge corporation down there called IBM and they were expanding. Land was worth a lot, a lot of money. Figured if you were going to keep farming you just weren’t going to be able to stay down in that area. We relied on a lot of rented land. All that land was being sold off for housing developments.
AW:
Did he keep his farm for the rest of his life or did he sell some of his land?
MW:
Well, he ended up after I left I think he went for a little while. Then he sold his cows. I think a couple years before he died he ended up selling his own land for the same reason for development. It’s all houses now.
AW:
[Laughter] After you left, did you keep in touch with him?
MW:
Yes.
AW:
How did you know, or how did you decide when it was the right time to move upstate?
MW:
I was looking for a farm upstate when I was still down there. At the time, it was hard to find a farm. Anyone who had a farm for sale up here wanted so much money for it that you could never pay for it. And I had an uncle [Stanley Wichowsky] in Starkville, which is between Fort Plain and Cooperstown. [Laughter] He needed help and I said, “Well, I’ll come up and help you,” but I told him I was going to continue looking for a farm because he didn’t want to sell his farm. And he didn’t want nobody working into it. So I came up and helped him out.
AW:
How long were you working on your uncle’s farm?
MW:
For about two years.
AW:
What was the difference between his farming style and the farms that you’d previously worked on?
MW:
It was all modern. He had a lot of modern equipment. He had barn cleaners and silo unloaders.
AW:
He didn’t have the bucket?
MW:
No, he had a pipeline milking system. [In] 1980 his whole farm burnt to the ground. He had a tragic fire so when he rebuilt it, he put, at that time, all the modern conveniences in.
AW:
How much land did he have?
MW:
He had over three hundred acres.
AW:
And what did he plant?
MW:
Same thing. For the cows, corn, hay, alfalfa. A lot of corn, a lot of alfalfa. Sometimes oats.
AW:
What type of cows did he have?
MW:
He had Holsteins. He had all pure bred, registered ones.
AW:
Did he ever think about having other types of cows or was he always Holsteins?
MW:
Pretty much, I think when he first started, I think he started in 1953, back then they had a little bit of everything, different colors. He settled on having the registered Holstein herd.
AW:
How did you find living away from your friends and family?
MW:
Well, we still had friends and family up in this area. We used to come up and visit all the time. My mother’s family was from that area too. My father’s whole family was in this area. We used to come up every winter snowmobiling. We used to always have snowmobiles. For probably five or six years, there was always a lot of snow. We used to take my vacation during the winter, take a week or two, when the snow was the deepest, come up and ride snowmobiles. We always stayed at his farm.
AW:
Oh.
MW:
From his location there was a major snowmobile trail through the farm. Long way you could go.
AW:
Who was up here from your mother and father’s side that you would see when you came up here for the winters?
MW:
I had an older brother up here. My mother had a brother. Her sister moved out to Iowa. Her grandmother was here. My mother’s mother. A lot of friends. People we met snowmobiling, this and that.
AW:
Are you still in contact with them?
MW:
A lot of them have passed away. Still know people but the next generation let’s put it that way. Their offspring.
AW:
How did living on your uncle’s farm and the experience he gave you there, help you when you owned you own farm?
MW:
I was pretty much trained when I came there. But you know when you have to work twenty-four hours a day for somebody else you figure if you are going to do it for somebody else you might as well do it for yourself.
AW:
With all of his more modern equipment, did he have to teach you how to use any of that stuff?
MW:
No. I pretty much knew how to use it.
AW:
How was it going from more of the bucket system to an actual pipeline?
MW:
Well, it was a lot easier. You don’t have to carry it. Well, they had a thing, what they called a dumping station. There was a hose with a thing that you pull out into the barn and that would, by vacuum, pour it into that and that would filter it. It would vacuum itself into the milk house where the bulk tank was and the compressor and that would, you know, put it in your tank for you. You wouldn’t have to carry it and pour it into the tank. You know, but as things modernized, you had a pipeline milking system. You just hooked the machine up, had a pulsator on a vacuum line and the other hose hooked into the milk pipeline and goes down onto the, [well] you turn it on, put it on the utter and away you go. [Laughter]
AW:
How did he feel when you said it was time to buy your own farm?
MW:
I told him I had a chance to go out on my own. And I gave him plenty of time to find somebody else. When that time came, I left. It was only around ten miles away [Probably closer to twenty miles]. We were still in contact, this and that. Over the years, sometimes he had some animals he didn’t want to raise--he would sell them to me. When I was there he had some cows that weren’t registered but they were such good cows he didn’t want to get rid of them. He always kept raising offspring off of them. When I got situated up here, he sold me quite a few of them.
AW:
How many?
MW:
I think it was about a dozen in all stages.
AW:
How often were you able to see him when you got on your own farm?
MW:
Well, for a few years, I didn’t have a lot of animals. It was a decent sized barn so to keep the barn from freezing up during the winter I would board some of his extra animals for him. I would take care of them---his young stock---heifers, during the winters. So we always kept in contact.
AW:
How were you able to get them from his farm up to your farm?
MW:
Cattle trailer. Trailer hooks to a truck or a tractor but we always used a truck. [Laughter]
[TRACK 1, 15:25]
AW:
You had said that you were already looking for a farm when you moved up here, but what were some of the requirements in the farm you knew you needed to have?
MW:
It had enough land to support the amount of animals you wanted, because when I was in Dutchess County---Lagrangeville---to get land you had to travel. I think we traveled within a four to five mile radius to get a lot of land so we were always doing a lot of road running. And I didn’t want to do that. Just like my uncle’s farm, it was all right there. You didn’t have to run all over the area to find land. When we were looking for farms, we wanted a farm with enough land to support the amount of animals you wanted to have on it.
AW:
How many animals did you want to have?
MW:
Back then you could make a living on sixty to eighty head total. Try to milk at least forty year round. But today you need at least a hundred head to milk year round in order to survive.
AW:
What was the highest amount of cows that you had?
MW:
At one point, because we had a lot of young stock, seventy/eighty head. We tried to keep around at all times.
AW:
How long did it take you to find a farm?
MW:
Well, total, it took probably five/six years to find a farm.
AW:
How many farms did you look at?
MW:
[Laughter] I don’t remember. [Laughter] Anytime, I always had a chance, I used come up to this area or whatever and look. We got a lot of farming magazines, listened to a lot of real-estate people. This farm we finally found, it was private and we just answered an ad that was in one of the farming magazines.
AW:
Knowing that you started with that farming by renting it, what were some of the restrictions because you were a renter and not an owner on that farm?
MW:
We just had to make it clear in writing that any improvements that I made to that place that we, if I decided not to stay there, he would have to buy the improvements off of me or I could take them.
AW:
Who were you renting from?
MW:
Another farmer. He had several farms. He was renting them out. I just figured ’cause he had a lot of land he just couldn’t do it all himself and this land he didn’t need. I guess he just gave people an opportunity to start out on their own.
AW:
What improvements did you make to the farm?
MW:
We had to do a lot of work to the house. It was pretty run down. He had to do some work too. He had to put a new roof on the house and a new heating system in the house. But I mean the barn needed work; not too much work. I ended up putting a feed bin up to hold grain and then I put pipeline milking system in the barn that a friend of mine had down in Dutchess County. He retired from farming and he was going to just discard it. I said, “Well, I can use it.”
AW:
Is that the original piping system that still is in there or was in there?
MW:
Yes.
AW:
How long did you rent the farm for?
MW:
About, let’s see, [pause] three and a half years.
AW:
How did you approach this other farmer to buy it?
MW:
We heard from other sources that he was getting up in age and he was going to start cutting back on the amount of land he had. He realized his sons and daughters weren’t going to continue farming so we went to him when we found out that his brother, him and his brother owned the farm, we approached them both and asked them if they were willing to sell the farm. They were. We found out the bank that had a mortgage on the farm and we went to the bank and asked them. We are interested in buying that piece of property and if they would finance us. They wanted a lot of financials and a lot of paperwork. I believe it took over six months in order to purchase it.
AW:
So now that you are finally a farm owner, what are some difference between working on someone else’s farm and owning your own farm?
MW:
Well, when you own your own farm anything you do, it’s yours. If you’re renting and you do anything on it, it’s hard to say it’s yours. Once I owned the land, I started doing; they called it some strip cropping and tiling. You tile out the wet spots, to improve the land. You can feed the land a lot better when you own it because you know you are always going to get the return off of it.
AW:
Can you talk a little bit more about what strip cropping entails?
MW:
It was kind of a rolling hilly farm so in order to keep it from eroding you know you kind of strip it---contour---strip it, whatever you want to say, so you are not plowing, working the whole farm as one big crop. You got strips of hay, strips of corn, strips of oats, whatever you are planting that way it holds the soil all together.
AW:
For the first few years what were you mainly planting?
MW:
Oats, corn, and hay.
AW:
What were some of the challenges that you ran into establishing the farm?
MW:
There are good years and bad years. Price in milk always fluctuates. Sometimes it’s high and sometimes it’s low but your bills, your fixed bills, are always the same, always going up. When the price of milk goes down nothing else goes down. The cost doesn’t go down. And if the price of milk goes up, your suppliers say, “Well jeez, you get more for your milk; we should get more for our supplies.” Always, the supplies never go down with the price of milk.
AW:
How did you decide which milk company to go with?
MW:
At the time there was a lot of milk companies. In Dutchess County, the owner of the farm was pretty much in a big cooperative. He had to sign a contract, to guarantee they got all the milk but I wanted to be an independent. There was a lot, at the time, a lot of little milk companies around----milk handlers, which you had to have a thirty-day contract. At the time, a lot of milk companies so I just made some phone calls. Whoever’s offering the best deals was who I went with.
AW:
How were the prices decided by these milk companies?
MW:
The United States Government sets a base price. But all these, every milk company, they call incentives, based on your quality of your milk you made. If you have, they call it somatic cell count [Cell count in the milk which tells whether it is good or bad]. They used to pay for butter fat. The higher the butter fat, the more you would get. The lower your somatic cell count was the more you could get. You could earn an extra, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty cents a hundred just by having quality of milk. If you shipped a big volume of milk then they would give you a little break on the hauling because we would have to pay to get the milk hauled to the milk plant.
AW:
Where was the milk plant?
MW:
At the first milk company, their milk plant was in New Jersey.
AW:
How many milk companies have you been with?
MW:
I was only with three milk companies.
AW:
What made you decide to go to different ones?
MW:
The first milk company [Tuscan Dairy] I was with they sold out to a huge conglomerate. I decided not to stay with them because, at that time, they wanted the major big huge operations that were milking three-four hundred cows so they could get a lot of [milk]. The tanker, milk truck, would just pull in and take a lot of milk. They really weren’t interested in the small farm. I went to a little [company], it was a farmer owned cooperative [Dolgeville Co-Op]. I was with them for quite a few years. They ran into problems. They were restricted on the volume of milk that they were handling. I was quite a ways away from them. I was with them for quite a few years and I had a chance to go with another milk company that was just starting out. They offered a better incentive and I decided to go with them. The last milk company I was with, which was the longest milk company I was with, was a family owned processors in Danbury, Connecticut named Marcus Dairy. A friend of mine that I went to school with, they had a farm in Dutchess County and that’s who they were shipping with. I found out that they were not [against] coming up in this area because they needed to expand out to get more milk. It wasn’t the farmers down in that area anymore or even in New England. I gave them a call and they were more than happy since they were in the general area. At that time the milk haulers were comingling the milk together. It worked out real well. That’s where I stayed and we never had a problem with them. We stayed right there until I stopped shipping milk.
AW:
How much did they normally take when they came and how much was in your bulk tank?
MW:
On the average, there’s four thousand pounds of milk.
AW:
And comparatively, size wise, middle? Small?
MW:
Well, four thousand pounds, well that was considered small. I was a one person operation.
AW:
Can you talk about why it’s better for the milk to have higher butter fat?
MW:
At the time, the higher the butter fat the more you would get for your milk. It has changed since then. They still pay for butter fat but now they would rather have more protein than high fat. I haven’t been involved in eleven years now and the pricing of milk; I can’t say how they are doing things today. I know they still pay for quality. The cleaner the milk the more money
[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]
MW:
you get for it above the base price.
AW:
What is normally the base price? Or what was it when you were farming?
MW:
When I was farming, I think when we started our farm it was around eight dollars a hundred. So every hundred pounds of milk you had you got eight dollars. I think when we stopped shipping milk, milking cows, it was around fifteen, sixteen dollars a hundred. But a few years ago, I understand, it got to almost twenty-five dollars a hundred. But now the last few years it’s gone back down to fourteen or fifteen dollars a hundred. But with inflation and everything it just, the farmers that I know of yet, they say they need at least twenty dollars a hundred just to break even.
AW:
Why has it then switched from high butter fat to protein?
MW:
The consumer is drinking less fat milk. I guess they’re saying, that there are several kinds of grades of milk in the store. Whole milk, two percent, one percent, skim, fat free, and, it’s what the consumer wants. They claim more two percent, one percent, fat free milk is being sold today than whole milk.
AW:
What was your best milking year or do you have more than one?
MW:
Back in the early 90s, we had a couple of real good years and again in the late 90s, we had a couple good years. Even the year we sold the cows was pretty good. Then it did go up for a while after we sold the cows for about five years. I think about five good years after I sold the cows, but now it’s all gone the other way.
AW:
What was your average milk check? How much?
MW:
We used to get two checks a month. They would give you an advance because they usually had your milk for forty-five days before you would get paid for it. They would give you an advance on your first ten days of milk. Then at the end of the month, they would pay you the balance but they would take out your deductions and everything, which was your hauling. That was your major deductions or if you had any milk notes [Milk notes are when farmers borrow money from the milk company and that money is taken out of the milk check], all that would come off. We were always in the 8-10,000 dollar range.
AW:
Was that enough to keep the farm running or did you have to supplement your income somehow?
MW:
My wife worked. She had a decent paying job. She had insurance and stuff so you know I wouldn’t have to pay it.
AW:
So when you established yourself as a farmer in this area and then after being here for a few years prior to that by renting, what were your relationships to some of the other farmers in the area?
MW:
Real good because [we were] on a shared basis. When someone needed a hand you go help them. If you needed a hand, they come over and help you. Sometimes you wouldn’t have to duplicate on equipment. There’s some pieces of equipment you only use a week or so out of the year. You would buy the one piece, another farmer would buy the other piece, and you would share it.
AW:
How did that work when it came to time deciding whose equipment it was?
MW:
The one farmer would buy the equipment. You used it and if it did break, you would have to fix it. If you didn’t have the equipment, like some of the equipment I didn’t have and wasn’t feasible for me to do it, I would just hire a custom operator to come in and do it for me.
AW:
What was the equipment you didn’t have at the time?
MW:
Sometimes I didn’t have a corn planter---a seeder, because I wasn’t going to spend the money for something you only used one week out of the year. Being by myself when it comes time in the fall to chop your corn I couldn’t do it fast enough so I would hire a custom operator to come in and at least get the silos full for me then I would just refill them with my own equipment. Some years [when] we had a lot of extra corn, we would hire a combine to come in and combine it. We would just take it to the local feed mill and they would mix it in with my own feed to bring it back.
AW:
How long did you employ a custom operator?
MW:
Right up until the end. I had one that [we] probably used him on and off for probably at least ten years or more, ten or fifteen years.
AW:
What is a difference between combining and chopping?
MW:
Combining, you’re only taking the ears---the grain out of it. Chopping, you’re taking the whole stalk and ear everything. You’re processing it up, chopping it all up. They call it a forage. [Put] it in the silo and [it] ferments and you feed it back to your animals. The better quality the feed you had, the less grain you would have to buy from a feed company.
AW:
When it came time to replant, was there something you had to do differently on fields that were combined versus chopped?
MW:
You had the stalk out there. You usually had to plow under the stalk. The equipment was getting more and more modern so there was equipment out there---today they make corn planters that will plant in anything. [Laughter]
AW:
What equipment did you end up buying when you first moved up here?
MW:
When I came up here I already had some equipment. I had a tractor and a plow and a disc, a baler, a few other odds and ends. When I came here, I had to buy a haybine [cuts the grass] and hay rake, some hay wagons. I had to buy another tractor. Just over the years, that’s why I had custom operators come in and do a lot of work for me, because I wasn’t going to go out and buy new equipment. But over the years, I did find equipment at auctions and stuff.
AW:
Knowing that you’ve had John Deere equipment in the past, how did you make that switch to more Allis Chalmers and New Holland equipment?
MW:
Well, I was always brought up with Allis Chalmers equipment. I’m kind of partial to it. When I moved up here, there was a John Deere dealership right down the road which was real handy. I did have a few pieces of John Deere equipment. You kind of went with the nearest equipment dealer. But over the years, the machinery dealers, the owners were up in age and when they wanted to retire nobody wanted to buy their business. Their family didn’t want the business so you always had to go further and further and further away. To this day, it’s still the same way. You have to go further and further and further.
AW:
What is the difference between a John Deere and an Allis Chalmers?
MW:
One’s green. John Deere’s green and Allis Chalmers is orange. Allis Chalmers is no longer out there. It’s called AGCO now. John Deere has always been John Deere. They have a name, they have a reputation, they have resale.
AW:
Did you find the quality of the equipment different?
MW:
Not really because it’s all built about the same it’s just how you use it. I didn’t have a lot of hired help so my equipment, once you bought a piece, would last a very long time.
AW:
Were you able to fix a lot of the equipment when it got broken?
MW:
Yes, because back then the technology was all made so you could work on a lot of the stuff back then. Today everything is electronic. All new stuff has a lot of electronics to it, a lot of computers. You need a laptop and special equipment to work on this stuff. That stuff is not available to the average farmer so you have to rely on machinery dealers to fix it.
AW:
When something broke down, how did that impact going about some of the daily chores you had to do?
MW:
There’s some pieces of equipment you used every day so if it broke down you had to get it fixed right away, especially the milking system. There were, those milking companies that supplied the milking systems, most of them were on twenty-four hour call. Every farmer had his own schedule so they knew it. There were a few machinery dealers that you could call at six o’clock in the morning or eight-nine o’clock at night. They would open the doors for you so you could get the part you needed to fix [it], so you could keep going. You kind of patronize those dealerships because they looked out for you.
AW:
When did you know it was time to get new equipment?
MW:
A lot of equipment was getting old. You weren’t able to find parts for it anymore. You had to go with used parts [from] salvage yards. You just had to change with the times.
AW:
When you sold the farm and I guess when you stopped renting the farm back, how many pieces of equipment did you have?
MW:
I mainly kept all the hay making equipment to make small square bales because there was a market at that time. There was not so much around here, but down south, there were a lot of horses. A friend of mine, he got into buying cotton seed. Cotton seed comes from cotton and it was a feed, a commodity, that at the time a lot of farmers were putting into their feed. So turned out he needed hay, small square bales, to take south, so I got hooked up with him. So almost every bale of my hay went to Virginia and he had a special trailer. From Virginia, he would leave the hay to a big hay broker and he would continue onto North Carolina to where a lot of the cotton [was], about as far north as the cotton was grown to get the cotton seed to bring back to farmers in this area. [We had a] real good working relationship. I didn’t have to worry about trying to sell hay in this area.
AW:
How long did you send the hay south?
MW:
Till that broker retired because I was doing a few loads every year when I had the cows. They got all my extra hay that I didn’t need cause every year you wanted to start out with new hay. I think we had a working relationship for about twenty-five years.
AW:
How much hay could fit on a tractor trailer?
MW:
He had a special trailer which was called a walking floor. About seven hundred and twenty-five to thirty-five bales it would hold. All depends on your bales of hay. Because it was enclosed, [it] had an open roof on it with a canvas, but it was enclosed and he was able to haul the cotton seed back because that was a real bulky commodity.
AW:
What was the process of filling that tractor trailer?
MW:
A lot of work. We would have to try do it on the weekends when we could get high school kids to help us. It’s a lot of work. You have to get it out of the barn onto an elevator into the truck. We have to stack it in the truck. A lot of work. We tried during the summer, if you needed some hay, when I sold the cows, we tried to sell a lot of hay because we didn’t have the buildings to put all this hay because all the land was turned into, instead of being corn and oats and hay, it was all hay. So we tried to sell some hay to the broker during the summer, from June to September is our main [time] making hay. We would store a lot but we also left enough in the buildings so the cotton was a year round thing, so every time this trucker was getting the cotton seed, we kind of figured it out, he was getting roughly thirty trailer loads a year of cotton seed. We tried to make it so I could supply him the bulk of that. [He] needed thirty trailer loads of cotton seed so he needed thirty trailer loads of hay to take down.
[TRACK 2, 16:43]
AW:
How much hay did you make usually in a year?
MW:
We were averaging 25-30,000 bales a year. One year we did a lot of extra. I had a lot of high school kids, at the time, that didn’t have jobs and were willing to work. I know that one year we were able to get several other little buildings and other hay around, and I know that one year we made 45,000 bales of hay. [Laughter]
AW:
[Laughter] You talk about your hired help now but when did you first hire help?
MW:
I never had full time hired help. Where we were situated there were always students, kids, that were willing to work. They wanted some extra money. They would come down and help after school sometimes or weekends and their vacations during the summer. At the time, there was nothing else for them to do.
AW:
Before you sold the farm and the cows, how did you decide which crops to plant on a given year?
MW:
We always had to plant enough to feed the cows. I always planted at least forty acres of corn, always had a lot of hay. We always had at least 150 acres of hay, forty acres of corn, and when I seeded down the hay ground, I always planted oats because we combined off the oats to give to the feed mill and we have the straw to use for bedding.
AW:
How much feed does it usually take to fill a silo?
MW:
Basically depends on the size of the silo. The silo I had held about fifteen decent acres of corn, fifteen to twenty would fill the silo. The corn silo, I had another silo of chopped hay in it. We would top that silo off with corn silage. There’s a machine out there, looks like a big sausage, they call it an ag-bagger. I would put up a couple bags of corn a year for that. Cause I had heifers outside in they call it a pen pack, in part of our machinery shed. They needed silage to feed them too when you didn’t have grass to feed them. So you always try to put up enough feed every year to feed your animals because you never want to try and go out and buy feed.
AW:
Which silo would have the corn in it?
MW:
They call it a concrete stave silo. It had a top silo unloader in it. That was on a winch system so when the silo was empty you kind of folded up the unloader and you pulled it up into the roof of the silo. I had another silo that I put up once we bought the farm; they called it a harvestore that had a bottom unloader in it. The idea of that was that you could fill and feed at the same time. For me, that was an easy situation because I would always have cows [that] would love to eat fermented feed than green feed. So I always had fermented feed for my animals. Because when we were filling the concrete silo, the stave silo, with corn silage, I would have an ag-bag of corn silage that I could feed the cows that was already fermented. Sometimes it was from the year before. But I always had fermented feed.
AW:
How long could it sit in the bags for?
MW:
My feed sat in the bags for at least six months to a year. You always had to leave it to sit in the bag for at least a month or so, so it would ferment.
AW:
The name of the farm is Clover ‘C’ Farms so where did that name come from?
MW:
My wife named the farm. She had a little stuffed animal named Clover. [Laughter] It was a clover cow. [Laughter]
AW:
How did you know it was the right time to leave the dairy business?
MW:
At the time, the shift was going to more huge farms. My milking system that I had was getting old. It was hard to get parts for. They were saying I would have to put a whole new milking system in the barn. The stalls that I had were wearing out. They needed to be all replaced. And getting up and down, up and down, up and down. You’re always squatting down. You have to squat down at least twice on every cow. My knees were getting tired. [Laughter]
AW:
How did it feel selling the cows?
MW:
It was bad. [Selling] one of the family. [Laughter]
AW:
But you decided to rent the farm back…
MW:
Yes. The new owner wanted somebody there to take care of it. I knew I had a decent hay business so we decided to stay there and keep farming because he was an absentee owner and he needed somebody to look over the place. So we kept a few acres on the back side of the farm and built a new house.
AW:
How different was it going from a dairy farmer to just kind of raising heifers?
MW:
The cow barns, once you stop using them, they really deteriorate because of the weather in this area. So a warm barn during the winter won’t deteriorate because the animals give off heat. The owner wanted to maintain the barn and we made even more hay. We even made more hay. Because I wasn’t planting no more corn. I was only planting a little bit of corn, maybe ten/fifteen acres just enough to feed the heifers during the winter. I had other rented land next door to us, this farm, so I just put everything into hay.
AW:
How do you feel about the boom in big business farming in the area?
MW:
I don’t. [Laughter] I don’t begrudge what they are doing but I can’t understand why. A few years ago that kind of put a kibosh to my hay making. When the commodity prices for corn, wheat, soy beans went so high, these big farmers, they went behind your back, especially when they knew you were renting land. They would go to those land owners and give them three to four times more than what you were paying. I would just tell the land owners, “Well I’m not in the corn or soy bean business; I’m in the hay business.” You could not pay. There’s not a lot a lot of money in hay cause it’s basically one price every year. You can only pay so much for a bale of hay. A lot of land owners wanted a hundred bucks or more an acre for their land. I told them, well you can go for it, but you know what’s going to happen. A lot of land owners have found out. These big conglomerates came in and just corn and soy beans, corn and soy beans. They’re seeing the value. Their land used to be nice and green looking now looks all brown looking. Now that the commodity prices have gone way way down, they’re a third of what they used to be; now these big conglomerates can’t pay that kind of rent.
AW:
Was that one of the factors in leaving the farm behind for good?
MW:
Yes.
AW:
But how do you like driving school bus?
MW:
It’s different.
AW:
[Laughter]
MW:
Something to do. My position, you never know what you are doing from day to day. They call me a floater, a sub monitor bus driver, so I don’t have a set route. Every morning I might be doing something different. Mornings, a bus driver doesn’t show up because he’s sick or whatever and I do his job.
AW:
How long have you been driving the bus for?
MW:
I’m on my fourth year now.
AW:
How long did it take you to get certified?
MW:
About two months. I knew the person that’s running the transportation department. I’ve known him for years and years and years because he’s a farmer, semi farmer. His boys, his sons, now run the farm. At the time, when I walked in I said, “I understand you’re looking for bus drivers and I’m interested,” and he said, “You’re hired.” But I had to wait for the school board to approve me and then I had to get a license. I’m not restricted to just a school bus I can drive anything in that class.
AW:
What class is it?
MW:
It’s called a Class B.
AW:
What other things could you drive?
MW:
I could drive dump trucks. You know, anything up to a tractor trailer. I cannot drive a tractor trailer because that’s a Class A license.
AW:
I guess, one last question because we are almost finished, but what was one rewarding thing about farming for half of your life, more than half of your life?
MW:
You’re your own boss. [Laughter] Simple as that. You’re your own boss.
AW:
Alright. Well, I thank you for agreeing to do this.



Duration

29:59 - Part 1
27:54 - Part 2

Bit Rate/Frequency

128kbps

Time Summary

0:00 - Start of Track 1
15:25 - Looking for a Farm
0:00 - Start of Track 2
16:43 - Hay Season

Files

Citation

Alexa Wichowsky , “Matthew Wichowsky, November 23, 2016,” CGP Community Stories, accessed October 17, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/266.