There’s no doubt that the Luellen family farm has changed in the 150 plus years since William Luellen bought 80 acres in section 5 of the Sugar Grove township in Dallas County from the government in 1865. But stories about what the farm was like more than a century ago are hard to come by, even for family members.
"They didn’t speak much about the farm; times were tough then," says Tim Luellen, the fifth generation on the family’s farm near Minburn. "They always looked forward, they never looked back."
But it’s that forward thinking that’s kept the farm in the family for more than 150 years, a milestone they’ll celebrate this week when they receive the Heritage Farm designation at the Iowa State Fair.
At one time, the family raised dairy cows. There’s remnants of the brick milkhouse where the family separated the milk from the cream. Generations later, the old milkhouse was used to store feed for a 4-H livestock project.
Tim’s grandfather, Clem, raised Belgian horses, which they also used to work the fields.
"Grandpa raised a champion stallion Belgian stud on this farm," Luellen said.
One horse in particular, Colonel, won five or six championships one year, including the Iowa State Fair and the American Royal. Tim remembers hearing stories of his dad, who was about five or six years old at the time, preparing Colonel’s mane for the show.
The family had a history of raising livestock on the farm—sheep, cattle, hogs, chickens—but that fluctuated throughout the years.
"We had a big outbreak of TGE (Transmissible Gastro enteritis) in the hogs and that pretty much wiped out the hog herd around here. The only way to really combat it was for everyone to get out for a while and let it run its course," Luellen said. "So Dad never did get back in the livestock until I came back around."
When Tim was 12, he got his first sows. He and his sister added heifers to the farm through 4-H projects, thus reintroducing livestock to the Luellen farm.
As the hog market crashed in the 90s, he and wife Winette exited the pork industry. But less than two months later they found themselves raising ISO-wean pigs for a neighbor in their own facilities.
Tim and Winette still raise about 10 cow/calf pairs on pasture.
Much of the growth on the Luellen farm can be attributed to the family developing partnerships with neighbors and taking advantage of programs which allowed them to grow.
The family started raising chicks for Hy-Line International because of their proximity to the company’s hatchery near Dallas Center.
"They offered Dad a deal that if he built the building, they would insulate it and heat it and put water in it. They had incubators in there and incubated chicks for two years," Luellen said.
The company chose the site because it was close enough to the hatchery near Dallas Center, yet far enough away for biosecurity.
"For a couple of years there were incubators on the farm. That kind of paid for our big shop we have today," he said.
A government program in the early 1960s provided money for farmers to store bushels of grain on their farm.
"They paid pennies a bushel for you to build bins. You stored corn in them for two years and then the building was paid for," Luellen explained. The different programs and opportunities helped replace outdated structures which weren’t replaced in earlier years, Luellen said.
"Times were tough back then. They didn’t have the money to put back into buildings," he said.
Getting a start
Health problems forced Tim’s dad to quit farming in the late 1960s, so Tim never really had an opportunity to farm alongside his dad. However, a neighbor, Ron Row, helped the family plant and harvest crops, and helped Tim learn more about raising livestock and growing crops.
"I worked for him a lot through high school. In 1982, my junior year in high school, he allowed me to rent some land. That was the first year I started farming. I used all of his equipment, but I paid for the expenses and got the income from the farm for the first time in 1982," Luellen said.
Tim worked in a partnership with Howard Wright raising pigs and crops. After Howard was killed in a farming accident in 2000, Howard’s dad, Bill, played a more active role in the farm. Tim and Winette’s sons, Ty, Clinton and Austin, also helped take care of the livestock and work in the fields.
"They really stepped up and ran tractors and did what they could to help," Luellen said.
Today, Bill Wright continues to help Luellen and his sons farm.
Luellen says farming has come a long way since he started growing his own crops. "Back then, we used open tractors without cabs, and smaller equipment," he said.
He would listen to AM/FM radio, listening to baseball games as he worked in the field.
"It’s changed a lot," he said.
A new generation
Today, his three sons are helping him utilize precision technology tools like auto steer, row shut offs and boom section shutoffs. Son Clinton’s on-farm study about overlapping on anhydrous applications showed Tim how precision tools could reduce the overlap and fertilizer use. Not only that, it’s proven to save the family money.
"It turned our heads on the dollars saved in doing that," Luellen said.
Just as the previous generations on the Luellen farm have brought new ideas to make the farm more efficient and more profitable, Luellen says his sons, who each live with their own families within 5 miles of the farm, are also bringing new ideas to the Luellen farm.
Though structures have changed on the Luellen farm, and hobbies have shifted from showing Belgian horses to IMCA open wheel racing, the Luellen family is poised to continue the family’s farming tradition for another 150 years.