Three generations of Gasser family farmers will greet Breakfast on the Farm visitors at their Town of Belgium dairy farm Saturday
In an era when many children are leaving the farm and big dairy operations are common, Dan and Lucy Gasser and their three youngest sons — Luke, 27, Max, 26, and Jed, 20 — are bucking the trend.
The boys decided to stay on the farm and became full partners in 2011, ensuring their Town of Belgium farm will continue into the third and perhaps fourth generations. They want the dairy operation to grow only large enough to support their families without hiring outside employees, Luke said.
On Saturday, June 28, the Gassers and their blended family will welcome visitors to their farm at 6380 Hwy. LL for the 30th annual Breakfast on the Farm sponsored by the Ozaukee County Dairy Promotion Committee.
Luke’s wife Emilie and their 2-year-old daughter Lillie-Mae and Max’s fiancé Olivia Krier will be on hand, as will Dan’s son Shane, 39, his wife Jennifer and son Evan, 15; and Lucy’s son Jacob, 34, and his son Justin, 15; and her daughter Emily Golden with her husband Greg and children Christopher, 13, and Katie, 11.
Everyone helps out during planting and hay seasons and enjoy being on the farm.
Until Lucy was severely injured by their dairy bull on Oct. 7, 2005, she and Dan ran the operation with the help of whoever was living at home. Lucy usually milked their 65 cows by herself.
That day, she was in the barn yard getting cows into the barn for milking when the bull attacked her.
“He had already gone through the gate, and he turned and started ramming me over and over,” Lucy said. “He threw me up over the fence line. He looked me in the eye and I looked at him. He could have come after me, but he walked away.
“It’s a miracle I survived that.”
Lucy, who said she was in excruciating pain and could barely breathe, managed to crawl to the road, where a neighbor saw her.
She was taken to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, where she spent four days, and then was ordered to two months of bed rest at home.
When ribs are broken, one may puncture the heart or lungs, Lucy said. Although her heart and lungs were OK, her doctors warned it could still happen and wanted her to stay in bed until the bones healed.
In addition to broken ribs, Lucy had two broken vertebrae in her back. Her sternum was crushed and her entire body was covered with bruises.
Luke, who was a carpenter for a developer but lived at home, took a leave from his job to take over his mother’s responsibilities and help his father, who also operates a farm equipment repair business.
Max and Jed, who were 18 and 12 at the time, helped before and after school.
Emily took care of her mother and made meals. Shane, who is a welder, and Jacob, who works for Oostburg Concrete, helped on weekends and after work.
A year later, Lucy resumed milking cows and handling the herd. However, she had to quit milking in 2010.
“As I started to recover, Luke, who had done a fantastic job, said he would really like to stay on the farm,” Lucy said.
He enjoyed carpentry work, Luke said, but he loved working on the farm more. He became the farm’s first full-time paid employee.
“I enjoy all the different things. Every day is different,” Luke said. “It’s nice waking up and walking out the door to your job.”
After graduating from Cedar Grove-Belgium High School in 2006, Max worked for Oostburg Concrete for two years, then also joined the farm operation.
The Gassers encouraged their children to work off the farm a few years before deciding if they wanted to be farmers. All but Jed did that.
Jed said he had no doubts. He knew he wanted to work on the farm.
In 2011, a limited liability corporation was formed making the three boys partners with their parents.
Each has a primary responsibility — Luke is the main herdsman, Max handles milking, Jed takes care of the calves and young stock and Dan keeps the equipment running in top condition.
Everyone helps with the field work, including step-siblings and cousins.
Lucy handles the book work for the farm and Dan’s repair businesses, feeds the hungry gang and takes care of Lillie-Mae, who insists they go for a walk every day.
“She says hello to all the animals, calls the rooster and checks on what her dad, uncles and grandpa are doing,” Lucy said. “She wants to be outside all the time.”
Soon Lucy will have another grandchild in her care. Emilie and Luke are expecting their second child in August.
“We all can do everything, so if someone wants to leave early or take a weekend off, we can cover for him,” Luke said, noting his brothers will take over when the baby arrives.
The herd has increased from 47 cows when Dan and Lucy bought the farm from his parents in 1989 to the current 175 milking cows, plus young stock.
The cows average 65 pounds of milk per cow per day and are milked twice a day, a very good herd average.
“They say happy cows give more milk, and our cows are happy,” Luke said.
“We don’t push them. We don’t give them bgh (bovine growth hormone). We try to feed them only our home-grown feed. We have a simple set up.”
The older barns have been updated, a milk parlor added and the young stock and dry cows are kept on the farm across the street, where Luke and his family lives.
The Gassers own 255 acres and plant 700 acres, mostly with hay and grains to feed their animals.
The farm was founded in 1849 by Nickolas Langers. His youngest daughter Elizabeth, who was called Lillian, and her husband Joe O’berst became the owners in the 1930s.
Their youngest hired hand was 10-year-old Max Gasser of Port Washington. He worked for them until he was in his 20s and married Bernice Kultgen.
He and his wife then moved to the farm, where they raised five children, including Dan. Max and Bernice bought the farm from Mrs. O’berst in 1965.
When his father died in 1989, Dan and Lucy bought the farm.
“When my dad died 25 years ago, I wanted to keep the land in the family, but my brothers and sister didn’t want anything to do with it,” Dan said.
“I love the land, and my boys are the same way. We have a little hunting woods. In a way, everything is here. I’m happy that they’re going to stay with it.”
He knows it won’t be easy for his sons, who as farmers have to deal with the weather, land prices, milk prices and equipment.
“They’re excited about doing it and they’re hardworking boys, and that’s usually a sign of success,” he said.
“I want them to take over eventually, but as long as I’m alive, I’ll still be helping out, still in the fields.”
Image information: Gasser farmers include (from left) Max, 26, Jed, 20, father Dan, mother Lucy and Luke, 27. Photo by Sam Arendt