Rural Research 101
A Wisconsin farmer searches for natural ways to boost productivity. Story by Bernie Lager II Nekoosa, Wisconsin
A Wisconsin farmer has turned his pastures into a laboratory for animal nutrition.
Welcome to the Wisconsin River Wildlife Co., a 40-acre family farm that my wife, Tammy, and I share with our dog, George, and two cats, Foxy and Midnight.
Ten years ago, I was looking for a way to test out ideas that arose in my nutritional research work. So my son, Bernie III, and I bought this farm and converted it into a rustic living laboratory. We raise elk, whitetail deer, red deer, chickens, turkeys, pigs and sheep with as few chemicals as we can.
To do this, we integrated aquaculture, natural fruit extracts
and pen rotation to increase our yields. And we experiment with natural soil amendments to boost garden and crop productivity.
We’ve extracted components from local crops—chia and cranberries, for example—to create supplements for both our farmland and animals. And this year we’re working with aronia, an alternative superfruit crop for small farmers. We hope it becomes a long-term solution for cultivating unused corners of their properties.
But the farm has become more than just a place to test theories and ideas. Tammy and I now live here nearly full time. Occasionally, Bernie III and his sister, Samantha, and their families join us too.
Those are the best days. Seeing our grandkids with the animals? You can’t put a price on that.
MONDAY I worked in the deer pens as the sun came up. Fawns started dropping a few weeks ago. Next week I’ll be showing a couple of new deer farmers how to catch and tag fawns. At that time we’ll also pull samples for DNA analysis so we can track bloodlines.
TUESDAY We rotate the liming on our paddocks to make sure each of them gets essential nutrients. Twelve tons of lime were delivered here today— half of it for a 3-acre former horse pasture. I moved the elk, too. They were vocal; I think they were saying “thank you” for the new pasture.
WEDNESDAY Using leftover materials, I started building a new sorting and handling room in the sheep barn. This new space will help us separate lambs and ewes at weaning times and make it easier to select animals from different flocks for veterinary care or sales. After Tammy found her first mother lode of morel mushrooms today, we enjoyed a feast from the farm: fresh morels, asparagus and red-deer tenderloin.
Cousins Aliya and Phoebe feed the goats while visiting their grandparents at the Wisconsin River Wildlife Co.