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.

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