Grazing Stories

Mike Jorgensen

Enterprises: Grass-fed Beef
Acreage: 320
How long farming? 6 years

Background:

Mike is an old-school farmer who realized early on that something on his farm needed to change. His yields were down and his land was suffering. Upon making this discovery, he decided to implement holistic management practices on his farm, including managed rotational grazing.

Mike has seen both sides of this way of farming – what can go wrong, and how it can be improved.  To learn more about how implementing managed rotational grazing saved his land, click Mike’s video.

Why this?

“I returned to the family farm I grew up on after being off the farm for 20 years. We wanted to begin a grassfed beef operation, as we had no desire to crop farm conventionally. We purchased a small herd of Irish Dexter cattle and began experimenting with rotational grazing on a small scale, on a few acres of poor pasture around our farmyard. We proved to ourselves the value of high stock density grazing as each year our pasture resources improved. With the help of the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program, we were able to develop our grazing plan and get our fencing and water system installed, so we began grazing in earnest. The herd is slowly but surely growing and we currently have 50 head in our mixed herd of Dexters and Lowlines.”

Surprises or observations so far?

“During our second year of grazing (before we had established our native pastures) we endured an intensive rainfall event during which we received 6+ inches of rain over a 4 hour period. I did not want to mess up an entire paddock, so I fenced the small herd of 10-12 cattle on a small sacrificial paddock for a day. The stock density on this small area equaled about 250,000 animal pounds per acre. The cattle turned the area, which was dominated by Kentucky Bluegrass and Canada Thistle, into a moonscape. I firmly believed that the area would never recover without being tilled up and reseeded. We gave it a long rest and much to our surprise and delight, it exploded with growth and showed many more species of plants than the grass and thistle we expected. We proved, in a small way, the healing effect that animal impacts can have on our land.”

Stephanie and Andy Schneider

Enterprises: Grass Fed Beef, Sheep
Acreage: 175
How long farming: 7 years

Background:

Stephanie and Andy manage 135 acres of pasture in Wisconsin. Their farm has been through its share of troubles – droughts, floods, winds, freezing winters, you name it, and their land has endured it.  Making the decision to graze is not always an easy one, and the Schneider’s story bears that truth out. However, despite hardship, their choice to graze is a positive one: “Pasture-based agriculture gives us an option other than 40 hours in a cubicle, kids in daycare, and hours commuting. It allows us all the freedoms that self-employment allows.”

Stephanie and Andy chose rotational grazing because it was a way to better control their life, their land, and their future. They have the freedom to control their animals, to control intensity, and to have a major impact on their land by improving soil health and productivity.

Why this?

“There were many reasons to start the farm, no one thing can be pointed at as the reason. But, there was really no other option. Thinking back I’m not even sure there was much discussion about it – it’s just what we always wanted. Neither of us grew up on a farm. Andy grew up in a suburb of Green Bay and is technically a carpenter but is really skilled in most trades. Stephanie grew up in her family’s cheese factory with the intention of joining the family but it was sold before that could happen; but not before a love of family and country-life was instilled deep in her heart. Stephanie does have degrees in environmental studies, enjoys being with people and is somewhat skilled with computers; so, unbeknownst to us, our marriage was almost ideal as a direct-marketing farm couple. But, when all these things combined with the need to feed two children we really had no choice but to get into the organic, grass-fed farming world. If we are going to grow a few for us we may as well grow a few more for sale since moving 20 cows is not any more work than moving two.”

Surprises or observations so far?

Pasture-based agriculture gives us an option other than 40 hours in a cubicle, kids in daycare, and hours commuting. It allows us all the freedoms that self-employment allows.  There are many, many more positive aspects and really no negatives (the negatives we do encounter are almost always due to our circumstances and not the systems). These include: providing healthy food to ourselves and our community; providing jobs to a rural community; environmental aspects from clean water to sequestered carbon; every animal raised humanely is one less raised in ethically-questionable CAFOs; financial security that health-promoting food provides and the stock market could never match from a security standpoint and often not from a financial one either. It means options and freedom.

Natasha Paris

Enterprises: Grass-fed Beef, Sheep
Acreage: 108
How long farming? 3 years

Background:

Natasha is a beginning farmer who manages 108 acres of land in Green Lake, Wisconsin. For the past 3 years, she has raised cattle and sheep while engaging in multi-species rotational grazing.

Natasha’s story highlights her deep passion for animals, the land, andthe environment. According to Natasha, “Grass farming is a way of life that not only sustains me economically, but emotionally and somewhat spiritually. It means that we can provide food for ourselves and others in a way that helps rebuild our soil, which in turn provides for a better future.” Caring for the land is her way of caring for herself and her community. Click on the video to see more of Natasha and her farm.

Why this?

“My parents raised me to be deeply concerned about the environment. My family has owned our farm in Green Lake since we came to this country in the 1870s. The last member of my family to farm it died in the 1960s and since then it was rented out to a local dairy farmer. After talking to my family about our wish to farm, they agreed that we could inherit the farm. My husband was raised in a farming community and has only ever wanted to farm. He mentioned to me that raising animals on pasture really seemed to make a lot of sense, and this clicked with both my environmentalism and my love of animals. We took ownership of the farm in 2012 and have spent the last three years slowly rebuilding. All of the buildings had collapsed beyond repair so we started from scratch: new well, new power, new driveway, new fences, new barn, etc. Grass farming is a way of life that not only sustains me economically, but emotionally and somewhat spiritually. It means that we can provide food for ourselves and others in a way that helps rebuild our soil, which in turn provides for a better future.”

Surprises or observations so far?

“It has been frustrating but very rewarding. Even on the coldest and hottest days when I dread going outside, I find myself spending more time with my animals than I planned so I can learn from them about what they need and how I can better manage them and the pasture. My animals live contented lives which helps them produce a better product which is both healthy and delicious. The fact that I am stewarding a property that has been in my family for generations and am bringing it back to a state in which it can be drought- and runoff-resistant means the world to me. The benefits grass-farming has brought to my life cannot be understated. It is not without its challenges, but I appreciate living a life that is tune with the seasons and the circle of life.”

Dayle and Ivan Reinke

Enterprises:  Grass Fed Beef

Background:

Dayle and Ivan wanted to be able to raise their family on a farm. With backgrounds in agriculture, they both cared about the land and their future. After exploring their options, they settled upon rotational grazing as their best choice – Dayle loved the idea of raising cattle, and neither of them wanted to grow commodity crops.

Dayle and Ivan are constantly looking toward the future. They enjoy teaching their children about the practices they use on the land, and showing them where their food comes from and how it’s made. As Dayle puts it, their kids ‘know exactly what’s on their plate, and they know it’s good.’ To hear their story, click the video.

Why this?

“We decided to exclusively graze our cattle several years ago for many reasons.  The first was after doing extensive research, we realized that not only was Grass fed beef better for our farm, environment, rivers and streams, but for our health!”

“When we heard about the Pasture Project from Kent Solberg we were excited to learn how to tell our grazing story better.  It was also exhilarating to learn of a foundation that promotes this farming style, and perhaps change the “normal and accepted” practices to something better – something that energizes the health of our farm, our soil, our family, our local wetlands and rivers, our local economy and beyond!”

Surprises or observations so far?

“We can and have changed the fertility of our sandy soil by managing the cattle, the grass and intensifying our grazing habits.  Also, we have a lot of people drive by our farm, to see what we are doing!  It definitely looks different than the surrounding land use practices.  We didn’t realize people would be this curious!”