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How We Farm

Our Ethics and Practices

Stone foundation from our 1888 farm

Our Farm's History & Return to Regenerative Ag

Farming and a love of the land run deep in both of our families. Dale’s great-grandfather purchased the farmstead in 1888, and his family has been operating it ever since. Judy also grew up on a 4th generation family farm, in Dane County.

 

Our 350-acre farm lies in the townships of Honey Creek and Troy in southern Sauk County. Dale bought it from his parents in 1997 and soon started his first beef herd. He pastured them on the farm’s original pastureland, historically chosen by default because it was too steep to crop. Despite trying rotational grazing by hauling water to the pasture, this extra chore became unmanageable with Dale’s full-time off-farm job and raising three young boys. Without being able to rotate pasture, the grazing season usually ended by August and supplemental feeding started.

 

This system remained in place until 2016. That’s when we learned more about regenerative agriculture and how rotational grazing improves herd health, soil and water quality, carbon sequestering, biodiversity, rural farm economies, and the nutritional composition of grass-fed beef. We decided to make some big changes. With the help of Serge Koenig, Sauk County Land Conservation Department, we:

 

  • Converted our biggest crop field to grazing pasture by installing high tensile fencing, and waterlines in both the new and original pastures.

  • Changed our production model to 100% grass fed and grass finished, and implemented managed rotational grazing with daily moves.

  • Started winter bale grazing with the cattle out on pasture year-round.

 

After seeing how well these changes worked, we converted additional cropland to grazing each year. By the end of 2024 we’ll have converted 172 acres of cropland to grazing—installing 4.5 miles of high tensile fencing, a new well, and nearly two miles of waterline for the last phase of field to pasture transition.

Keeping our land covered in pasture means we always have living roots in the soil, which is vital for good soil health. This, in combination with our grazing livestock’s even distribution of manure fertilizer and sod-aerating feet, improves pasture quality. Healthy soil has a higher organic matter content and can absorb a lot more rainfall than cropland. There is no runoff from our pastures.

 

Our pasture water retention was incredibly valuable in 2023 during Wisconsin’s drought. We held onto every drop we received and were able to graze our cattle until December 7. In contrast, most rainfall on continuously grazed pasture (no daily paddock rotations) runs off without being absorbed. You’ll recognize continuously grazed pastures by their short golf-course turf appearance. 

See an NRCS Rainfall Simulator in action, to see how different farm soil types absorb or repel rainfall.

Black Soil

Soil Health—The Root of Regenerative Agriculture

Six Sons Farm cattle rotationally grazing an 8-way cover crop mix.

Rotational Grazing

Six Sons Farm cattle get new grass every day during the growing and stockpile seasons. We move them daily or twice a day, depending on pasture condition and weather. After our cattle graze a day’s paddock, they won’t return for 50-60 days so that the pasture can regrow properly. In a drought year, that return period can be closer to 70 days. Daily moves to fresh pasture disrupt parasite life cycles, which keeps our herd healthier without insecticides and medications.

 

When our herd moves, their water tank and mineral feeder move with them. The cattle always have a water source in their paddock, along with a free-choice loose mineral mix formulated by our local independent animal nutritionist for cattle in our geographical region. Due to the mineral makeup of our soils, and nutritional needs of our pregnant cows and growing calves, we supplement minerals to make sure our cattle get all the essential nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Some people wonder how Wisconsin farmers can raise 100% grass-fed cattle, when grass doesn’t grow here in winter. Simple—our herds eat hay or baleage (partially dried grass) that was cut and stored during warmer months.

 

When we started winter bale grazing, we pre-placed large round hay bales in the winter pasture prior to snow. The cattle remained on pasture all winter, feeding on the bales and sheltering in woodland-protected areas. This eliminated hauling manure from the barns and barnyard, but the downside was that bale-grazed pastures always needed reseeding in spring due to the cattle congregating in concentrated areas to feed.

 

Late 2022, we started unrolling round bales in the winter pasture with a tractor-mounted bale unroller. This works even better than bale grazing. It spreads the nutrients from cattle manure and leftover hay evenly over a larger area, and doesn’t require reseeding pasture in the spring. Watch how Dale unrolls hay on our steeper slopes.

Cattle on winter snow, grazing on unrolled hay bales with a mineral feeder in foreground.

Winter Feeding

A cow with her calf walking in tall pasture grass.

Calving Season

Unlike traditional calving seasons that start in February, our calving season begins in May on fresh pastures. Being born on thick growing grass, along with daily paddock moves, eliminates scours (calf diarrhea) and most other health issues caused by infection that can quickly kill a calf.

 

Then we leave calves with their mothers until the following year when new calves are born. Both are healthier and happier because of it, and those yearling calves are already predominantly eating grass. When it’s time to wean, we use fence-line weaning to reduce stress. This lets the cows and yearling calves see, hear, smell and comfort each other while divided only by a light wire or fence.

Compared with conventionally raised beef, research indicates that 100% grass-fed grass-finished beef has higher levels of vitamins A and E, “healthy fats” such as conjugated linoleic acids, and omega-3 fatty acids including EPA and DHA, all of which have been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and decrease the risk of diabetes and cancer.

 

So, what exactly is grass-fed grass-finished beef? We urge consumers to be cautious when buying “grass-fed beef.” Many farmers and distributors of “grass-fed beef” are selling meat from animals that were also fed corn or other grains prior to slaughter, to fatten them faster. This defeats the purpose of being grass-fed, as you start to lose many of the nutritional benefits of 100% grass-fed grass-finished beef after grain is introduced.

 

Grain also increases the carbon footprint of those cattle. There are tremendous inputs of diesel fuel, fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides used in corn production that are not used in raising grass-fed grass-finished beef. We only need sunlight and rain.

Closeup photo of pasture grasses.

Grass Fed & Grass Finished
We Never Feed Grain

Tree swallow nesting box along a pasture fenceline.

Bird Habitat

Grazing pastures provide a lot more grassland cover for native birds and insect pollinators, as opposed to cropping the land. Birds, especially tree swallows and eastern bluebirds, are very beneficial to our cattle. During fly season, flocks of tree swallows follow the cattle and eat thousands of flies each day. Natural, chemical-free fly control. We have 37 Golondrinas tree swallow houses in our existing pastures and will be installing more in our new pastures this year. These supplement the natural nesting areas that our adjacent wooded areas already provide.

 

American kestrels and red-tailed hawks are permanent residents on our farm and help keep rodent populations in check. And since we’ve expanded pastureland, we’ve welcomed some new bird friends. Dale was quite surprised when he flushed up more than a dozen wild ringneck pheasant chicks one day, as they nested in our 20-acre pasture for the first time in 2023. Other birds we’ve noted are the eastern whip-poor-will and northern bobwhite, which we haven’t heard here in many decades.

 

We plan to start a list of our native bird and insect sightings, to post here in the future. Check back!

Know Your Farmer

If you'd like to learn more about our farm and how your food is produced, you can visit with us at the Spring Green Farmers Market most Saturdays mid-May through late October. Or email us anytime. To schedule a farm visit, please email us for details and availability.

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