ELLSWORTH — While the sights, sounds and general routine of his Pierce County dairy farm are fresh in his mind now, Dale Hines knows one day they won’t be.
“They’ll be fragments in my subconscious mind forever,” said Hines, who, with his brother, Dean, sold their 70-cow Holstein dairy herd last month after a lifetime of farming together.
But someday, they’ll want to remember exactly what it was like when the barn was filled with cows, and they’ll want to show that lifestyle to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
That’s why the Hines family hired videographer Rich Wahl of Rock Falls to follow them around the farm for part of a day this summer, documenting their daily routine — everything from lacing up their barn boots before heading to the barn for morning chores to hauling a load of grain to market.
“You get not only the picture but the sounds as cattle move in the barn, the pulsation of the milking machines, the feeding equipment moving,” Hines said. “I’m glad we did it.”
Many families think to hire a videographer for weddings and other events, Wahl said, but in some cases, it’s even more valuable to capture some of the more everyday aspects of life. That can be particularly true for farm families exiting the business after many years, even generations.
“This is even more part of history; it’s a lifetime,” he said.
Hines, who encourages other farm families to preserve their memories on film, said they decided to have a “day in the life” video made before selling their cows on the suggestion of his wife, Julie, who is register of deeds at the Pierce County Courthouse. She had heard about Wahl’s Moments Video Productions through a mutual friend, Corey Catt.
In 2009, Catt had hired Wahl to produce a similar video about his father before the cows left their farm. Wahl recorded everything from individual cows in their stalls and the arrival of the milk hauler to a short conversation with his mom about her memories. Catt and his brothers each have a copy, and while they don’t view it often, it’s just nice to know they have it.
Farming is “rich with daily routine,” said Catt, a former milk hauler who now works as a forage product specialist with Latham Seeds. He said he has seen a lot of farmers get out in recent years, and because of his fondness for farmers, it’s been hard to watch.
“Every bit of your DNA is in that farm. Every experience you’ve had ties back to that farm. (But) your life isn’t over; it’s just changing,” he said. “A lot are making the tough decision to shut the doors after 100-plus years ... . They’re fourth-generation farms and their savings are depleted.”
Wahl said he was inspired to start his own videography business many years ago after receiving positive feedback for an appreciation video he put together for the Ellsworth Area Ambulance Service. He shoots video for clients throughout the U.S. and has done a few videos for farm families over the years.
He considers it an honor to be part of this transition in life, going beyond still photographs to take the ordinary and create a family heirloom to be treasured for years to come. No matter the circumstances, he tries to make the story positive.
“Preserving people’s histories is one of the joys of what I get to do,” Wahl said. “Each one is a custom shoot. I talk with the client or family and find out about what they do, what’s important to them to capture.”
Wahl said many people are nervous in front of the camera, but the Hines brothers were naturals.
“These guys were just amazing as far as their presence on the camera,” he said. “When these guys get going in the morning, it’s just like clockwork.”
“Dairy farmers are probably the most routine person there is,” Hines said.
After edits are made over the next couple of weeks, the Hines video likely will be 30 to 40 minutes long. Music performed by Dale’s son will be added as background, making it more personal to the family. The family will receive three DVD copies, and Wahl will keep a master copy indefinitely. It also will be made available online, he said.
Wahl said he charges $55 per hour for his services, and between capturing footage and editing, the process usually takes 10 to 16 hours. The final cost often is $500 to $700.
But “it doesn’t have to be a big production,” he said. He urges families to sit down with a family member and record a conversation — even if it’s just with a cellphone — to preserve memories before it’s too late. Make hard copies and distribute them, he said.
He did something similar several years ago with his parents. His father has since passed away, and his mother has Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s so precious to me now,” he said. “Don’t wait.”
Adams Publishing Group