Butch and Darlene Augspurg are the owners of The Branch Ranch. Butch purchased the farm from the family in 1989. In 1990, the first patch of Christmas trees were planted. Considering it takes roughly 7 to 8 years for a Christmas tree to grow to be 5 to 6 feet, the first trees were sold in 1997.
A Little History from Butch himself
My Uncle Tom Augspurg purchased the farm in the mid 1950's. He used 50 acres to grow row crops to feed his livestock operation. He kept 20 or 30 head of cattle and raised hogs to supplement the income. Tom and my father Bob farmed together and rented farmland to raise row crops. Dad got out of farming and into building in 1957.
Prior to Tom buying the farm previous owners let an old guy named Harris tap Maple trees and make Maple syrup which he sold in the community. He had access to several hollers along the Fabius River which held a good growth of mature sugar maple trees. He made his rounds every day collecting sap and boiling it down in each holler. That was simpler that trying to get the sap to one central location. If you have ever tried to travel on the south side of the river you very quickly find out how difficult it is to get up and down the valley walls with a bucket of sap.
We still make syrup today but not to sell. Tootsie uses it for housewarming gifts, hostess gifts and just in general gives it away in spite of my protests. We make about 10 gallon of syrup every year. That means there are 400 gallons of sap picked up from the hillsides and boiled down in the Baum Haus/Sugar Shack in late February when the hillsides are still covered with ice and snow. It gets a little trickery every year as the buckets get heavier and the ground gets harder but we still love to make Tootsies Syrup.
We have about 6000 trees today and are going to plant 500 this spring which will be the last Christmas Tree that I am ever going to plant. It takes from July 1 to August 30 to prune the trees in my spare time. Next comes painting which is about 3 days of Leprechaun clothes and green underwear. The stain is permanent. If it dries for over 10 minutes it will only come off with sandpaper of a sand blaster. I have one John Deere mower that is tree green, not John Deere green, but its the one Tootsie ran into the REC pole and had to go to the Redneck Body Shop.
Mowing takes about 18 hours with 2 mowers. I have built most all of the equipment that we use to take care of the trees. We have implement carriers mounted on the back of the mowers to carry sprayers, a home built air mist sprayer to cover each tree with insecticide or fungicide which has to be done at least 3 times yearly. We also have a tree shaker made out of fence row materials that works as well as there $3500.00 ones and I have $60.00 in mine.
I don't know how many more years we will be able to take care of the trees but you can bet as long as we can we will have a ball and provide the community with a little piece of the Christmas Spirit that is so important to us.