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A century of progress

LAKEFIELD -- The Hansen farm has been officially re-christened the Hansen Cattle Company, but the Century Farm is still known far and wide as "Hansen's it'll do farm" -- the slogan proudly proclaimed on its silo just north of Lakefield.

Hans Henry Hansen and Augusta Lock Hansen were married in 1894 and moved to the Lakefield farm in 1902.

The 160 acres farmed by Hans and Augusta is still in Hansen hands a century later, with brothers Doug and Dave Hansen and Dave's wife, Carolyn, at the helm. They have help from Dave and Doug's father, Curtis, and Dave and Carolyn's two sons, Neil and Jory.

"Grandpa and grandma bought it, and they farmed, and it was all with horses," Curtis said. "They had a few horses and cows and chickens and pigs."

Family pride in the farm has remained strong, but almost everything else about it has changed. Known in the 1940s for its purebred spotted hogs, the operation later became a dairy, only to switch again to beef production.

Now the farm encompasses two homesteads and 450 acres -- plenty of room for two families, 80 cattle and 85 calves. The animals are Maine-Anjou cattle, known for being friendly and highly marketable.

The many small buildings that once dotted the site in the 1930s are now gone, and the oldest remaining building is the corn crib, built in 1941. Everything else is more recent, including the house Carolyn and Dave live in, which was built in 1990.

Progress and technology have had great effects on the farm over the 10 decades of its existence. The Hansen farm got its first tractor in 1936 -- a John Deere -- and from then on, horses were gradually replaced. Electricity quickly followed for the Hansens in 1937.

"Then it was one light bulb in the dairy," Curtis recalled. "... one light bulb in each room and one plugin. But boy, that was a lot of light."

Though Curtis does not remember his grandfather, Hans, very well, by reputation Hans was a wonderful person who got along well with other people.

The farm got its first milking machine in 1955. Prior to that, all milking was done by hand.

Even the seeds have changed since Curtis' early farming days.

Once upon a time, Carolyn said, corn was supposed to be "kneehigh by the Fourth of July." Now, if the corn is only knee-high by Independence Day, it's considered below average.

"We didn't have hybrid corn until the 1940s," Curtis said. "Everybody raised oats and corn (then). Now you don't see much (oats) anymore."

Oats simply aren't as profitable as soybeans and corn, and the oats were used as livestock feed, Dave said.

The switch from dairy to beef came in 2001.

"The milking equipment needed to be replaced," Dave said, noting that the farm either needed to expand its dairy operation or leave it behind entirely.

There were other reasons for the switchover, too.

"(We wanted to) have more free time, not be so tied down," Carolyn explained. "It's so much more flexible (raising beef cattle). You can do chores a little earlier or later."

Switching from dairy to beef also meant Dave and Carolyn could watch their youngest son play basketball and other activities because their schedules were so much freer.

Seven years after the changeover, they still appreciate the switch, which allows them more time to do fieldwork instead of spending so much time milking, cleaning barns and feeding the animals.

"They're a little different," Doug said of the Maine-Anjou cattle. "They're rougher. They're tougher than the dairy animals -- physically built heavier."

The Hansens compete with their cattle in the Beef Royale, a contest for beef producers in Cottonwood, Jackson, Pipestone, Rock and Murray counties hosted near Westbrook. Rather than the groomed show cattle displayed in county fairs, the Beef Royale is a contest for the animals right off a farm's feedlot.

This year, the Hansens had the champion steer calf and took second and third place in other divisions in the Beef Royale.

Currently, Doug takes care of the feedlot, from the calves to market, and makes sure the animals are all healthy and fed correctly. Dave is in charge of breeding and calving, and takes care of the weaning. The two men share in the fieldwork.

Curtis still helps with many of the farm's chores and Neil, an agronomist at Pioneer Hi-Bred, offers agronomy expertise.

Jory Hansen, 23, is working a degree in higher education policy and administration in Mitchell, S.D., following in Carolyn's footsteps with a job outside the farm. Carolyn is a secretary for Sanford Hospice of Worthington, Windom and Jackson.

As yet, Carolyn, Dave and Doug have no plans to retire, but when they do, they expect their son Neil, 26, would have an interest in taking over the family farm.

"We should be going for a long time yet," Dave said.