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Lofty Acres, Inc.: The farm on top of the hill

By Kelsie Hoitomt

GLENWOOD CITY — In 1903, Frank Draxler moved to the state of Wisconsin with his wife Theresa and their children after traveling to the United States from Austria and Germany.

They found land and began to build a farm right where the main farm is located today. Frank started with 40 acres, eight cows and some horses, pigs and chickens.

The cattle were kept in a barn that Frank built in 1906. That barn is in fact still standing today and is located near the farmhouse.

Frank and Theresa had eight children: three boys – Charlie, Louie and John; and five girls – Anna, Caroline [Gillis], Mary [Berends], Lizzy and Bertha.

Charlie started farming his own piece of land, which was just northeast of the farmhouse and that piece of land is still called “Charlie’s” today.

Caroline [Gillis] was also not too far away from her original home as she was living to the east up the hill on what is now Tom and Judy Knox’ home.

In the 1920s, Frank passed away, but before that Louie and his wife Jenny [Gillis] took ownership. Theresa stayed and kept farming beside her son as well.

During that decade, the Draxlers were milking 24 Holsteins in the two story barn.

Louie and Jenny also had their first child during that time. Robert Draxler, Joe’s father, was born in 1921.

Bob was their first child and then came Don, Dorothy [Mitch], Joann, Margie, Betty [Mortel], Donna and Jack.

The girls would eventually leave the farm, but Bob stayed his entire life and Jack was around until 1955.

Jack then packed up and moved to California where he farmed up until this past fall with 1,400 dairy cows.

Don was also on the farm, but once he was old enough he moved to Madison to attend UW-Madison and then enlisted in the ROTC program and went off to war.

Well Louie was in his 40s at this time, but he still felt that if his son was going to go to war, he was too. So Louie and Don went off to WWII together, but they eventually were split up.

Louie came home roughly three years later and went back to the farm. Don came back and opened up a feed store in town for a few years before leaving for California.

Don was the first to move to California and eventually Margie and Donna moved to California followed by Jack.

The girls actually married brothers and they all lived their lives out west, except for Don as he spent most of his years in Colorado.

With Louie gone to war, the farm and 120 acres of land was watched by Jenny, Bob and his wife Doris [Jackelen].

It was a tough transition and a bit of a rude awakening for Louie when he returned home since his wife was now the head of the house and she and Bob were calling the shots on the farm.

In Louie’s absence, Jenny, Bob and Doris built a new garage and quonset machine shed on the farm.

The Draxler family was also helping people around the area harvest corn. In those days the means of corn picking was by hand, but the Draxlers had one of the first corn pickers pulled by a John Deere B so they went around and helped local farmers.

In that time, 20 bushels of corn per acre was a good yield. Today, on a good year and in a good field, the average is around 180 bushel.

In 1949, Bob and Doris had their first child, a girl who they named Jackie. Then came Nancy [Graese], Joe, Mary, Debbie, Dan and Ann.

Bob wrote daily on a notepad that was small enough to be carried in his pocket everywhere he went.

On one particular day, he wrote about the weather, what acres were planted with oats, and then on the last line he included that his son named Joey was born.

Their last child was born in 1961 and at that time they were farming 240 acres with 55 dairy cows in the barn.

It was in 1960 that they upgraded the farm with an addition to the barn and the farmhouse. They also built two silos, a machine shed and put in a pipeline milker, bulk tank and a Hedlund barn cleaner.

Up until the 1950s, the milk was separated on the farm and then the cream was hauled daily to one of two creameries in town. The leftover whey was fed back to the pigs.

By the 1950s, creameries upgraded to being able to take whole milk, but soon that changed with the installation of bulk tanks.

The small local creameries closed down in the 1960s as bigger businesses opened in the area. The Draxlers were having their milk picked up by Twin City Milk which had a bottling plant in St. Paul.

As time went on, all the girls grew up and left the house, Dan stayed around a few years before going off to work at the University Extension office and Bremer Bank and then there was Joe.

Joe knew he wanted to farm so he enrolled in a two year program at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to get an Associates Degree in Animal and Plant Science and Farm Economics.

Joe was just 20 years old when he and his father joined into a legal partnership with each other for ownership of Lofty Acres.

That was in 1973 and then in 1982, Joe became the sole owner.

But to back up some, it was five years before this when Joe was a sophomore in high school that he met Charl Alleman, daughter of Chuck and Zelda.

Charl grew up in Downing and then her family moved to a farm west of town near what is now Glen Hills Golf Course.

The Alleman family farmed the land until they were forced out due to the county creating the Glen Hills park and golf course.

Joe and Charl dated throughout high school and then married in 1972. After that, they bought a trailer house and built a garage where their current home is now.

In time as they started having children of their own, the trailer house became too small so they did a swap with Bob and Doris.

In 1976, Joe and Charl moved the family up the hill to the farmhouse and Bob and Doris built a house where the trailer once stood.

Their family of two grew to one of seven after Steve, Kathy, Mike, Chuck and Bill were born.

Joe and Charl adopted Angie six years after Bill was born and they also had several foster children throughout the years that were a part of their family.

Aside from making the move in 1976, the farm itself changed once again as a different end of the barn was added too, which allowed for their herd of milk cows to increase up to 76.

Joe and Charl upgraded the house as well to fit their big family so the basement was finished, a bedroom was added on, an entry way was built and an office for all the business to be taken care of was created.

Now at that time on the property there was the old two-story barn, the one main barn, silos and a calf barn. On the “Charlie farm” there was a heifer facility and silo as well.

By 1980, all the work on the house was done and they built their first free stall barn. There was another machine shed put up also and they had their first harvester. Over the years there were 11 silos constructed on the Dairy, all but one are gone today.

In 1982, Joe took over the farm as owner, which meant he now had 432 acres of land and 76 cows to manage.

At that time, Joe said land was around $1,000 per acre and interest rates were at 17 percent.

By the mid 1980s, Joe increased his herd to 95 cows, which he sat at for around ten years before they decided to do a major expansion.

In 1996, the first big expansion took place. They increased to 240 cows, they stopped using the two story barn, added a milking parlor that went from a double eight to a double 12, added a TMR mixer, built a big free stall barn that was 96 x 330 feet and got rid of all the silos and started using bunker silos.

1996 was a big year that on paper looked to be successful and full of excitement. However, there was heartache as the family said goodbye to Bob.

Not only did Joe have to deal with losing his Dad and life long business partner, prior to that in May of that year the farm was hit by a tornado and leveled the new barn. Joe was also hit with another blow, that following winter.

On December 23, mother nature dumped a pile of snow on the area. That snow and some engineering malfunctions led to the collapse of the brand new barn.

Despite it being Christmas Eve the following day, dozens of people came together to help Joe and Charl clean up and get what cows survived out safely and doctored up. 52 cows were lost in that collapse.

Locals came to the house and set up hot meals and beverages for the family as well.

Even though it was a disaster at the time, they were able to rebuild and bounce back better than ever.

With Bob gone, Doris moved into town and Joe and Charl moved back down the hill to where their first trailer house once stood.

They currently reside there in the home that Bob and Doris built, a few modification have been done over the years.

By 2000, Joe and Charl had two children that wanted to be on the farm permanently. This was an exciting time for the family as they welcomed Mike and Chuck as full time employees.

Mike had gone to school to be a Diesel Mechanic and worked at Value Imp. Chuck had gone to Brown Institute where he learned how to become a radio DJ and worked at WAXX from 10pm to 6am.

By this time, Charl was still a presence on the farm, but her full time job had shifted to that of a teacher.

In 1994 she began working at the local elementary school with preschoolers. She spent 18 years there before retiring two years ago.

Today Charl shares the role as director of the ambulance and is an Emergency Medical Technician.

Back on the farm, there was more adding going on. It was in 2000 that they built a large shop for all repairs to be done in.

To this day all the fabricating, tune-ups and equipment repairs are done in house by Chuck and a full-time mechanic.

With Joe and Charl out of the farmhouse, that left it up for grabs. Once back from college, Chuck lived there with friends until he met his wife Laura. They moved out and began a family so Mike and his wife Rebecca moved in.

Mike, Rebecca and their three children live in the farmhouse today. Mike is now the main herdsman for Lofty Acres, and manages the 1100 head of cattle and the labor force for the barns and parlor. Chuck manages the outside staff, bookkeeping, repairs, feeding, and agronomy side of things.

Aside from Mike and Chuck, there are 15 other employees that keep Lofty Acres up and running as a successful farm.

There are currently 900 acres of farm land that Draxlers own and another 500 acres that they rent each year.

The crops are all kept in-house to feed the 1,100 head of cattle. They also purchase grains, proteins and other commodities to feed the cattle.

All of that goes into a TMR mixer and is fed to the cows in order to provide the perfect nutrition so they produce top quality milk. Currently they feed over 25 tons of feed per day.

The 540 cows are milked three times a day from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. then from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and lastly from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.

The cows are being treated to a special upgrade these days. In August, the Draxler farm began construction on one of its biggest expansions.

Currently there are cattle on the main farm, and at two other farm locations that they own.

To change this and bring more of the cattle together, a new barn is being built and remodeling of the old barns are being done so that close to 800 head can be housed in one complex.

The barn, which was started in August and is set to be all complete by March, is truly one of kind in St. Croix County.

The cows will all be in sand bedding now. On the outside of the new barn and the old barn, the curtain side walls have been eliminated and now there are Suntuf panels for the walls, which let the sunlight in.

The new barn is environmentally controlled through a computer system, which means the air will be exchanged every 90 seconds, the temp will never drop below 40 and should not ever go above 80 in the summer.

To keep it cool in the hot summer heat, there are high pressure fog machines/fans that hang from the ceiling.

The lighting has also been changed. There will be 15 lumens of light shining at every part of the barn and then at night there is a “moonlight” setting, which puts out eight lumens.

That moonlighting will be on for only four hours, which creates a cyclical type lighting and that is supposed to help milk production.

This system comes from a company in Chippewa Falls called VES Environmental Solutions.

Technology has truly surpassed anything of what our grandfathers and great-grandfathers could imagine.

Now once this system is finished, Joe and the employees at VES can actually look at their cell phones and see what the temperature in the barn is.

Once completed, there will be the new barn on the property as well as the renovated old barn, the hospital and pre-fresh barn, the barns for the bred heifers and dry cows and then there is also the barn where the calf hutches are housed.

Joe today is still owner of the farm, but he and Charl have felt confident enough with their sons and employees to step aside for some years now.

That has allowed the two to dabble in another adventure, well drilling.

It was five years ago now that Joe and Charl were first introduced to Living Water International out of Houston, TX.

This organization trains groups of people on how to dig, drill, install and repair wells. Their mission is to go to other countries that are riddled with disease and death from poor drinking water.

Joe has been on 21 trips and has completed 82 well projects in the last five years in Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Joe is typically on the repair and install team. Charl goes to the village people and personally teaches them personal hygiene –  educating them about germs and dysentery and how to help with health and cleanliness.

Each of these wells provide daily drinking water for communities/villages of around 1,200 people. There is rarely electricity in the villages so these are hand pumps that are used.

Five years ago statistics showed that a child died every 15 seconds around the world from dirty water related issues.

With the efforts of Living Water Intl and other organizations that figure is down to a child dying every 25 seconds around the world.

The new wells that are in are saving the lives of 2,100 children per day from just five years ago. Helping to bring clean water to a village also allows children to go to school instead of helping Mom carry water. And it allows Mom to do other more constructive things also.

Together they will be taking off for another mission trip in February to Honduras. They will be leading a double team to drill a new well and teach hygiene and a second team to do pump repair.

In December of 2015 they will lead a team to Nicaragua to drill a new well, which is in memory of and sponsored by the late Becky Teigen.