Pasture Walk at Blue Ox Farm
October | 2018
Hay River Review | Erin Link
What a perfect evening to visit Blue Ox Farm in late August. There was a gathering of around thirty or more people for a pasture walk at Blue Ox in Wheeler, WI. This is the third pasture walk I personally went to this summer. The first was at Holm Family Farm in Colfax, WI where they raise organic heifers and custom graze other cows. My second was at Cylon Rolling Acres in Deer Park, WI where goats are raised for meat.
Right now I want to focus on my experience at Blue Ox and talk about pasture walks. Blue Ox is owned by Lauren and Caleb Langworthy. They moved here about six years ago and started off growing vegetables for their CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. Dedicated to improving the land where they were farming, they started rotationally-grazing their sheep to help fertilize the land as well as stimulate and promote healthy root growth in their pasture grasses. They also seeded in a variety of plants to their pasture that would be nutritious or anti-parasitic for sheep, but also improve soil health. These varieties included different clovers, grasses, and chicory. After a few years of veggie farming, Lauren obtained a job for MOSES (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service) a farming organization dedicated to helping farmers that want to grow organically. At that point, things shifted a bit at Blue Ox and sheep soon became the priority. Caleb also started a couple of small outside gigs a couple years after Lauren started working for MOSES. With their focus shifted to sheep, they worked on creating and improving infrastructure - mainly fencing and water lines. Naturally, they wanted their fences to be secure. They also wanted to create more efficient systems for lambing, shearing, and regular maintenance.
Their sheep herd started at fifty, but has grown to almost three hundred in the last few years. They sell their whole lambs as meat to members and occasionally at local stores such as Just Loal in Eau Claire. Their lambs are 100% grass-fed and, in my opinion, absolutely delicious!
I have a soft spot for using ground lamb in tomato-based pasta sauces. I'm also a big fan of leg of lamb on the grill. There are many different ways to prepare your different cuts of lamb. To me, lamb tastes like a very mild venison and pork mix. It adds a lot of hearty flavor to any dish. You can sign up at their webpage to get your own lamb share this winter.
Lauren and Caleb have learned through grazing conferences, mentors, and trial-and-error how to best rotate their ewes and lambs, how to manage pasture, and reduce erosion. A few years back, they brought in a couple of highland cows. The first cows were named after the Golden Girls sitcom: Blanche, Rose, Sophia, and Dorothy. The cows had calves. Herford bulls were brought in to breed with the highlands and more calves were born. They now have a small herd of highland and highland-mix cows and steers that have been used to clear out extremely brushy areas - all the brush plants that sheep wouldn't touch! Their intention is to create oak savannas. Oak savannas are lightly forested grasslands where oaks are the dominant trees. Creating these oak savannas helps to increase plant diversity and, ultimately, creates good pastures.
Coming back to pasture walks: these walks are organized by the Wisconsin Farmers Union and River Country RC&D, Southwest Badger RC&D, and Glacierland RC&D. These pasture walks not only have been educational, but a fantastic way to meet more people in the community. There is usually PIE involved, and pie always makes for great conversation!
I encourage people to attend a pasture walk or two in the future. Come out and meet your local farmers, show them your support, and be ready to ask questions.
For more info: Blue Ox Farm Webpage:
Farmers Need Interdependence
August | 2018
Agri-View | Jane Fyksen
Caleb and Lauren Langworthy are diverting from the path of self-reliance that many farmers tread. The young farmers strive instead to make connections and build community because they believe interdependence is what creates a stable rural economy.
"Farmers in the past relied on one another," Lauren Langworthy said.
It's a philosophy that motivated the Dunn County couple to seek leadership roles with the Wisconsin Farmers Union and to reinvigorate their county's Farmers Union group. And it's why in part they buy hay instead of harvesting their own. They also purchase a Community Supported Agriculture vegetable share fro beginning farmers' they've sold shares of their own produce in the past. Networking and supporting fellow farmers with their time and pocketbook are important to the Langworthys - as is the do-it-yourself doggedness necessary to establish their own farming future.
The Langworthys operate Blue Ox Farm near Wheeler in northwest Wisconsin. Fans of American folklore, they named their farm for Paul Bunyan's mythical towering companion.
The couple purchased 153 acres in 2013 by utilizing a beginning farmer loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. They've also tapped programs from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Dunn County Land and Water Conservation to improve farm conservation and soil quality. They have fenced 55 acres for managed grazing and plan to fence an additional 30 acres in 2019.
While they started with high-tunnel certified-organic vegetable production, they've since switched to livestock production. Caleb Langworthy said labor and margins were concerns with fresh-market vegetables.
"And our sandy soil wasn't being supported by that annual production model," Lauren Langworthy said.
They rotationally graze 150 Coopworth ewes and their lambs - a breed developed in New Zealand. A small herd of beef cows was recently added - Scottish Highlands bred to a Hereford bull. The Langworthys strategically graze their beef cattle in their woods. They said they've seen marked improvement in a short time in the understory quality and productivity. They're working to build soil organic matter with techniques such as winter bale grazing by their livestock so manure is strategically deposited.
Lamb and beef are direct-marketed via social media and to former Community Supported Agriculture customers in Minnesota's Twin Cities. They also wholesale lamb to food cooperatives and restaurant chefs.
The Langworthys are natives of Zumbrota, Minnesota. After high school Caleb worked on vegetable farms. That's where he caught the farming bug. He earned a degree in agriculture from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He then taught school and managed a large market garden that fed students at Golden Hill Area Learning Center in Rochester, Minnesota.
Lauren Langworthy attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa before working with 4-H and Extension Master Gardeners in Olympia. Now she's the program director for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). Based in Spring Valley, Wisconsin, the organization spearheads the MOSES Organic Farming Conference held every year in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
She's also a state director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union. Her husband is the president of the Dunn County Farmers Union. The two assumed leadership roles after participating in a Farmers Union Enterprises leadership-development program in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Montana. Their first experience was in Montana where they met leadership-program predecessors Tenzin and Stacey Botsford of Red Door Family Farm near Athens, Wisconsin. Tenzin Botsford said he appreciates the Langworthys.
They're proactively engaged and (are) kind-hearted and caring people," Botsford said. "They're interested in learning and helping to direct (public) conversation in a productive manner."
Darin Von Ruden, long-time president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, is a dairy farmer near Westby, Wisconsin. He said the Langworthys have not been bashful about jumping into leadership roles and provide outstanding service to the organization.
Von Ruden said the organization has been attracting many beginning farmers similar to the Langworthys. He attributes the influx to issues the organization addresses It hosts a Community Supported Agriculture conference every other year, which he said tends to draw young people interested in a more non-traditional avenue into farming. The organization also sponsors an Emerging Leaders program in November for new members.
The Langworthys will host a Wisconsin Farmers Union co-sponsored pasture walk Aug. 22, the fourth pasture walk they've hosted. One of the written goals of their farm is to provide space for the community to interact and learn. Hosting a pasture walk fits with that goal. "It's a way to meet more farmers and overcome divisions within agriculture," Lauren Langworthy said. She said farmers have farm more in common than not.
"Farmers are such a small population broadly that we have to stick together," she said.
"Farmers are independent and professional problem-solvers," Caleb Langworthy said. "But supporting one another is what makes the countryside a vibrant place to live."
Visit or or mosesorganic.org for more information.
Jane Fyksen writes about crops, dairy, livestock, and many other agricultural topics; she is a crops editor for Agri-View based in Wisconsin. Contact or 715-683-2779 for more information.
Photo Credit: Danielle Endvick, Wisconsin Farmers Union
FUE Leadership Program Builds Leadership Skills, Lasting Relationships
March | 2018
Wisconsin Farmers Union Blog
When Caleb and I applied to the Farmers Union Enterprise’s (FUE) Couples Leadership Program, we didn’t know entirely what to expect. We knew that we wanted to engage with our community and Farmers Union in a deeper way. We also felt that we could always use more instruction and leadership training. With that intention, we applied for the program and have been so glad that we did.
Our first experience was to travel to Montana where we met last year’s outgoing couples (including Stacy and Tenzin Botsford) and our own leadership cohort. All together, we went through a training where we learned about our own tendencies in communication, as well as how to read others so that we can develop better abilities to dialogue with people with differing styles. The farmers unions presidents of all five states came and shared some history of our inter-state relationship’s development and took time to answer our questions on several topics. Most importantly, we got to know couples from all five of the FUE states who participate in agriculture in different production methods and scales. As we’ve developed deep friendships, we’ve also come to realize how many views we share in common - despite our obvious differences.f
The next time we all met was at the Minnesota State Convention. This time, everything was different. We were seeing ‘old friends’ and telling them how wonderful it was to see their letter to the editor shared by their local paper. We got to see how a different state runs their convention and hear the policy debates happening over the boarder in a different community. We also had another training that focused more on our own personalities to help us consider how to step up into leadership opportunities while recognizing our own natural tendencies.
Our most recent reunion with the FUE couples came at National Convention where we began by learning a brief history of cooperatives in their relation to farmers union. We went through a workshop to help us become more comfortable with public speaking - and even though we were all nervous and weren’t sure we would do well, we all left amazed and impressed with each other’s short presentations. It built our confidence and taught us more about our new FUE friends. We also learned how to lead a meeting using Parliamentary Procedures and had a lot of fun being raucous in our example meetings as we exercised proper language and protocol. Beyond the FUE training, it was so inspiring to be a part of the strong Wisconsin delegation to Kansas City. We got to meet many of the Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI) participants and saw our state’s candidate to the National Farmers Union’s Vice President position voted into the role. We were proud of our state, impressed by the positive powers of Farmers Union, and happy to continue sharing ideas with our friends from other states.
As we look ahead to our final two meetings in the Program (a Washington DC fly-in and the meeting to welcome next year’s delegates into the fold), we realize what a true gift we’ve been given through this program. We’ve been invited to learn more about our own inclinations and potential. We’ve developed deep bonds with farmers in different states and production models that we would have otherwise never met. We’ve learned about the depth and history of Farmers Union and we’ve become inspired to step up.
The FUE Program doesn’t end with a concrete plan or a list of expectations. Rather, it tapers off in an open end where each individual is allowed to reflect on their experience and consider - with their newfound knowledge and skills - where they might be able to offer their gifts to provide positive impact to their communities. All that we can really say is that we appreciate the support through this learning process and we look forward to offering what gifts we can to this amazing community-minded, democratic organization. We’d like to express our thanks to Farmers Union for taking a gamble on us. We’re looking forward to welcoming the next FUE couple into the fold.
The deadline to apply for the FUE Leadership Program is April 11. Applications can be found on our Upcoming Events page.
Thirty Wisconsin Farmers Union members are in Kansas City, Mo. March 3-6 for the National Farmers Union Convention. They include, (from left, front) WFU Government Relations Director Nick Levendofsky, Madison; Lisa and Jim Soyring, Maple; Patty Edelburg, Amherst; Janet Nelson, Prairie Farm; WFU President Darin Von Ruden, Westby; WFU Government Relations Director Kara O’Connor, Madison; Sarah River, Iola; Danielle Endvick, Holcombe; Chris Holman, Custer; (middle row) Rick Adamski, Seymour; Alexis Dunnum, Westby; WFU Membership & Special Projects Organizer Kirsten Slaughter, Madison; WFU Membership Coordinator Deb Jakubek; Bruce Miller, Hayward; WFU Executive Director Tom Quinn, Menomonie; WFU Facilities Manager Brad Henderson, Chippewa Falls; (back row) Lauren Langworthy, Wheeler; Craig Myhre, Osseo; Jessica Jurcek, Jefferson; Tommy Enright, Amherst; Jacob Marty, Monticello; WFU Education Director Cathy Statz, Chippewa Falls; Alicia Razvi, Stevens Point; and Dennis Rosen, Emerald. Not pictured but also attending the convention are Michael Slattery, Maribel; Caleb Langworthy, Wheeler; Linda Ceylor, Catawba; Mark Liebaert, South Range; and Gary, Lucas and Angela Edelburg, all of Amherst.
Wisconsin Farmers Represented at National Farmers Union Convention
March | 2018
Thirty Wisconsin Farmers Union members are among the nearly 500 farmers and ranchers who have gathered from around the country for the 116th National Farmers Union Anniversary Convention, March 3-6, in Kansas City, MO.
On March 5, members took part in the task of shaping NFU policy for the coming year.
"As a family farmer-driven organization, NFU's convention is the organization's most important event of the year. It's an opportunity to celebrate what makes Farmers Union truly unique - and that is family farmers of all types, sizes, ethnicities, regions and religions banding together to make sure they all can enjoy the American dream," says NFU President Roger Johnson.
"We're pleased to have such a large delegation of Wisconsin Farmers Union members this year," said WFU President Darin Von Ruden. "We'll be bringing some important policy forward supporting an incentives-based inventory management program that aims to provide relief for our struggling dairy producers. We'll also be speaking up on the need to increase federal spending to establish an effective dairy safety net and to create programs that better account for the actual costs of dairy production."
Throughout the convention, attendees will engage with industry experts, policymakers, thought leaders and fellow farmers on topics of vital importance to family farm agriculture. Top of mind for most attendees and speakers are the severely depressed farm economy, negotiations on the upcoming Farm Bill, extreme consolidation in the agricultural sector, and the success of the next generation of family farmers.
The information learned will provide context for the organization's annual line-by-line policy review by Farmers Union delegates in the final days of the convention.
"NFU's grassroots policy adoption process allows our members to dictate the direction of the organization, and it is very important to deciding the policy we bring to the table in Washington, D.C.," Johnson explained.
"This year's deliberations will be especially important, as family farmers and ranchers face a dismal farm economy, waves of consolidation, and upcoming farm bill negotiations, among the normal volatility that they deal with on a day-to-day basis," Johnson added. "We look forward to our members setting positions that are representative of policy solutions that work for family agriculture and rural communities."
Keynote remarks at this year's convention will be delivered by Jason Dander, president of Let America Vote, and Art Cullen, Pulitzer-prize winning editor of The Storm Lake Times. NFU President Roger Johnson will deliver his annual State of the Farmers Union speech.
The convention will also feature a conversation on the opioid crisis gripping farm and ranch families. Sarah Tyree, Vice President of Government Relations at CoBank, will moderate a panel with NFU President Roger Johnson, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, and USDA Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett. The panel will focus on NFU's and AFBF's joint Farm Town Strong campaign and USDA's efforts to combat opioid misuse in rural America.
Convention attendees will also be treated to a local farm tour of Shatto Milk Company, award ceremonies, NFU education programming events, and a screening of the new documentary on beginning farmer issues, "Farmers For America."
The National Convention marks the end of a year-long participation in the Beginning Farmers Institute for several WFU members, including Jess Bernstein, Klevenville; Mary Jo Borchardt, Poynette; Jacob Marty, Monticello; Alicia Razvi, Stevens Point. BFI develops leadership and farm management skills in beginning farmers and encourages them to apply those abilities in their community organizations.
Jessica Jurcek of Jefferson is attending the convention as part of her role on NFU's National Youth Advisory Council, which she was elected to this past summer at All-States Camp in Bailey, Colo.
Caleb and Lauren Langworthy of Blue Ox Farm in Wheeler are cmongst farmers from across the Midwest and Great Plains who are taking part in the Farmers Union Enterprises Leadership Program, which includes leadership and personal development activities that aim to amp up Farmers Union involvement and networking skills.
The 2019 NFU Convention will be in March 2-5 in Bellevue, Washington. Learn more about the convention at NFU at
WFU BOARD: The 2018 Wisconsin Farmers Union board of directors includes (front, from left) Rick Adamski, Mark Liebaert, Darin Von Ruden, Craig Myhre, (back, from left) Lauren Langworthy, Ed Gorell, Chris Holman, Tina Hinchley and Linda Ceylor.
Von Ruden Re-Elected Wisconsin Farmers Union President
Feb | 2018
Westby, Wis., dairy farmer Darin Von Ruden was re-elected president by the Wisconsin Farmers Union during the organization's annual convention in Wisconsin Dells. Some 300 members attended.
Von Ruden is a lifelong WFU member, and since 2007 has served as the organization's District 5 director, representing Crawford, Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, Richland, Rock, Sauk and Vernon counties. He also leads the WFU Foundation board of directors, serves on the National Farmers Union board, and is chairman of the NFU Membership Committee. Von Ruden and his wife, Joann, live in Westby. His family recently transitioned the farm to the fourth generation when their son Brett purchased the machinery and 50-cow dairy herd.
Von Ruden has been active with Farmers Union at the loacal, state, and national levels. He is a seven-time recipient of the Silver Star Award, which is National Farmers Union's highest recognition of membership development. A patron member of the Westby Cooperative Creamery, he was also a founding member of Wisconsin Farmers Union Specialty Cheese, chairman of the Wisconsin Dairy Farmers Guild and a founding member of the Upper Midwest Milk Producers Association. He is a past delegate to the Farmers Union Marketing and Processing Association. He is a past delegate to the Farmers Union Marketing and Processing Association, and in 1996-97 was a member of Gov. Tommy Thompson's Cheese Pricing Task Force. In recent years, he has represented U.S. farmers as a delegate at World Farmers' Organisation events.
Von Ruden is the 11th president in WFU's 87-year history. He divides his time between the WFU state office in Chippewa Falls and its legislative office in Madison.
Lauren Langworthy was elected as District 2 director, representing Dunn, Pepin, Pierce, and St. Croix counties. Langworthy and her husband, Caleb, own Blue Ox Farm, a 153-acre grazing farm in Wheeler, where they produce lamb, beef, and hay.
Re-elected to another term on the WFU board were District 6 Director Chris Holman of Custer and District 7 Director Tina Hinchley of Cambridge. Other continuing board members include Craig Myhre, Osseo; Rick Adamski, Seymour; Ed Gorell, Eleva; Mark Liebaert, South Range; and Linda Ceylor, Catawba.
Wood-Portage-Waupaca Farmers Union member Patty Edelburg of Amherst and Amnicon-Douglas Farmers Union member Lisa Soyring of Maple were elected as the delegates who will represent WFU at the National Farmers Union Convention March 4-6 in Kansas City.
Next year's WFU state convention will be Jan. 25-27 at Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton.
Ask A Specialist - Converting Land Into Pasture
Sept | 2017
MOSES Organic Broadcaster | Lauren Langworthy
I'm hoping to convert some of my land into pasture. What should I consider in the process?
As you plan your new pasture, remember that fallow land is not necessarily going to be good pasture land. Just because it’s covered in grass doesn’t mean it’s a productive pasture capable of meeting your livestock’s nutritional needs. Just as you would with any other field, you’ll need to work on your soil and forage crops. The pasture you plant will need enough nutritional density to support livestock health.
Start with a soil test. Many producers don’t think to test pasture soil. However, these test results can inform your decisions and drastically improve your pasture’s success. To unlock the soil’s wealth of resources, you need a balanced pH. If the soil is too acidic or basic, many minerals and nutrients will become unavailable to grazing livestock. After the soil’s pH has been addressed, you can begin to work on the other parts of soil health.
If your land has been fallow for some time, it may be suffering from many different issues: soil deficiencies, too much thatch, invasive or persistent species that need management, or a lack of palatable and nutritionally dense species. Invite expertise from other graziers and experts. You might just need to do some clipping and interseeding to gain a production pasture. However, fields in really bad shape might require that you turn the soil to incorporate organic matter and get a fresh start with a new planting. It might even be worthwhile to plan a year of cover cropping to manage deficiencies or problem species (like continually clipping a sorghum sudangrass crop to manage a thistle problem).
Land previously used for production may have been tested and managed better for crops. Focus on making sure that the soil is ready and work with someone to select the best pasture species for your soil, climate, management, and livestock. With the “clean slate” of a productive field, your pasture planting could be just about anything. Having a second (or third) opinion about which species might best suit your situation can be very valuable. Mixing grasses, legumes, and forbes can add resilience and create palatable options for different livestock species.
When it comes to selecting and purchasing seed, connect with local pasture-based organizations. Groups like Pheasants Forever and US Fish & Wildlife regularly work with private landowners to connect them with local resources supporting grassland development. Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and even local seed houses can help you connect with experts to select the right plants for your needs. It’s important to consider your soil type, what varieties are best suited to the local climate, management plans, livestock species, and grazing density.
There may also be programs available to cost-share seed used to convert land into permanent pasture. Many of these programs will require a signed contract, but they can be valuable resources if you’re already planning to graze.
In creating a new pasture, you’ll have some big decisions to make about infrastructure. There are many different options available for fencing and setting up watering systems. Your plan will depend on your livestock species, management plans, and budget.
Irrigation systems can be as simple as plastic tubing, a few fittings, and a float valve if the field has proximity to a well, and the system’s pressure won’t be overtaxed. However, if water sources are distant or the demands will be higher, the design might take more creativity. Year-round management in a cold climate also requires careful planning. Look at several different systems to develop one suited to your operation.
Consider how your fencing will affect your management of the livestock and the land. You might want to have one large pasture or several smaller paddocks. Make sure that permanent fences and gate placements don’t become problematic over time. Think about your water sources, the number of management groups you’ll have, what fence materials are best, and how your fencing might affect your options in years of drought or heavy rainfall.
You might want to start with mobile fencing or semi-permanent options while you gain a better understanding of what your grazing enterprise will look like. As with planting, financial support may be available for fencing infrastructure. Reimbursements and grazing plans may be available to you through NRCS and County Conservation offices with a grazing contract.
There are a lot of organizations that want to see graziers succeed. Grants, equipment loans, operating loans, cost shares, and expert support are available to help you create your new pasture. Contact your local FSA office about operating loans, NRCS about their EQIP and CSP programs, County Conservation, and local grazing organizations like RC&D about species selection and management plans.
Ask A Specialist - Preparing for Breeding
Sept | 2017
MOSES Organic Broadcaster | Lauren Langworthy
What should I be doing to prepare my animals for breeding season on my farm?
While it may seem early to be thinking about breeding season, it’s actually a good time to start getting your plan in order to so that you and your ruminant livestock can be fully ready when the time comes.
The most important factor to consider when thinking ahead to breeding season is nutrition. You’ll want to make sure that the ladies are in good body condition as breeding approaches (body condition scoring is also known as BCS). Underweight or obese livestock may have trouble conceiving, carrying a fetus to term, or giving birth. To get off to a good start, you’ll want to make sure that everyone is healthy, even a little plump, but not obese. This might mean that you have to separate your herd into multiple management groups to reduce competition for feed, or supplement or restrict the diets of certain groups.
Achieving an optimal weight is also important for your breeding males. If they are underweight, they will not have the stamina they need to do their job and stay healthy. If overweight, they might not be successful or could cause injury when mounting females.
A quick check-up for the whole herd is generally a good idea before breeding season arrives. You may want to trim and inspect hooves, do a little clean-up shearing, or sort out young stock that won’t be bred this year. This can be a good time to make sure that small issues with your livestock don’t turn into larger problems when their body has high demands from the pregnancy. It is of particular importance to check hooves and leg joints before turning everyone out for breeding. Males can be hampered by injury or infection. Females will be responsible to carry additional weight during breeding and pregnancy. Small issues with joints, legs, and hooves can be aggravated and become much larger issues at a more critical time for your animals if they are not treated now. Make sure to plan this management early enough that your herd has time to recover from the stress of handling before you’re turning them out for breeding.
Another important consideration is breeding soundness. You can have a veterinarian out to check your males about 30 days before they’ve been turned out with your females. A few tests can help make sure that your leading man will be able to play his part effectively. Farmers and ranchers might consider having a back-up male available in the event there are last-minute issues. You can also put this male out just after your lead male should have completed his job. This “clean up” male can be good insurance, but may complicate your recordkeeping. Make sure that you record the dates that each male entered and exited the herd so that you can manage your breeding lines effectively.
Depending on the species you’re working with and your particular breed and management style, there may be some things that you can do with nutrition or management that will help promote a good and tight breeding window for your flock or herd. For example, a fence line exposure with a male can help induce estrus in your females. You’ll want to be sure you have strong fences if you employ this tactic. Also, “flushing” is a term that refers to feeding your females high quality feeds prior to breeding to improve their performance. While you want to make sure that you don’t induce obesity, this high-quality feed can increase ovulations and promote multiple births in many species.
No matter what your protocol for heading into breeding season, you want to make sure that your animals are in good condition and good health. Breeding and pregnancy can be taxing on animals that are in poor condition, obese, or dealing with other health issues. To ensure all of your animals have a successful year, plan time for observation, management, and treatment of little issues that could expound later when animals have more demands on their bodies. The work that you do to prepare your stock for breeding will pay dividends later in your season.
Ask A Specialist - Getting Involved in Policy
Jan | 2017
MOSES Organic Broadcaster | Lauren Langworthy
How can I get involved in farm policy?
Policy plays an important role in our agricultural communities. Whether you're discussing federal farm policy building conservation grants or more local policy governing infrastructure, the policies created have a huge impact on our food and farming systems.
Depending on your interests, there are many different ways and places to get involved in the creation of policy that can be impactful for your farm and community. My first recommendation would be to start with the organizations that you may already have membership in. For example, Wisconsin Farmers Union, Land Stewardship Project, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, Practical Farmers of Iowa - and too many others to possibly list here - all include policy advocacy in their work. Consider looking through their websites, calling their offices, and finding out how you might be able to get involved. Member-based organizations that focus on policy appreciate hearing from their members. They may have meetings, listening sessions, or committees that you could participate in as you learn more about policy and share your insights. If you’re already a member (or would consider becoming one), you can develop deeper relationships with the staff and fellow members both in the realm of policy and beyond. These groups will want to know what policies and programs are helping their members and how less-helpful regulations or programs might be improved to offer better support.
Often, groups like these will be involved in larger policy collaborations. They will collect ideas and input from their community and share them in a larger regional or national dialogue. Along with many other organizations, MOSES is a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and the National Organic Coalition (NOC). These coalitions are made up of many smaller organizations that pool resources and information to work toward building sturdy and intelligent policy platforms that support farmers, consumers, the environment, and rural communities across the country.
If you don’t have the interest or energy to participate in local or regional conversations, you can consider donating to policy advocacy coalitions that your favorite local groups are involved in. You can also visit their websites and consider signing up for newsletters or “action alerts” that will help you know when something important to you is being discussed and which representatives you could call to express your stance on the issue.
Beyond participating in these organizations,
there are lots of ways to be involved in the policy that supports farms, the food system, and rural life. If you are just starting to learn and engage, you can stop by the Policy Place at the MOSES Conference to chat with organizations that impact policy and learn more about the programs that come from it. You can even sit in on specific Roundtable discussions about how to leverage Farm Bill programs for your own farm business.
Federal farm policy has brought many amazing programs to the farming community. You can also contact your local FSA and NRCS offices to learn about programs that might help your farm – whether they are NRCS-CSP grants that offer financial incentives for conservation work, FSA loans to help you capitalize and operate your farm, or NRCS-EQIP reimbursements that can help you put in needed infrastructure for your operations— it’s good to know how the policy behind them can help you.
For those who have more of a drive to get involved, there are plenty of opportunities to engage in local government or community groups that drive policy. Perhaps you want to consider becoming a county commissioner. What about joining that farmer-led watershed initiative in your area? There are many ways to be watching, learning, and engaging as we head into the next Farm Bill cycle. It’s important that we all pay attention and contact our representatives when needed to make sure that the policies our local, state, and national bodies create positively impacts our farms and the environment and communities that we share.
Young Farmers Work With FSA to Find Land Tenure
Jan | 2017
MOSES Organic Broadcaster | Lauren Langworthy
My 153-acre farm would not be what it is today without the support of the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
About four years ago, my husband and I were coming to the end of an annual lease and feeling frustrated about year-to-year rental situations. We wanted to be organic farmers, bu the lack of tenure on the land made it difficult to justify the immense expense and time that we were putting into land we may not have access to in a couple of years. At the time, we were custom-grazing livestock and managing our own vegetable operation. We were developing market relationships, but really needed stability on the land to grow our business.
The uncertainty of short-term land leases were holding us back from pursuing the organic label and from some of the best management practices we wanted to be integrating into our farm. As most organic farmers know, there is a three-year transition process between conventional cropping systems and then potential to certify land as organic. We thought the USDA organic label would help our vegetable enterprise grow and prosper in new marketplaces. However, land tenure would mean more than just the organic label; it would also allow us to start cover cropping more intensively, developing longer rotations, and adding necessary infrastructure that requires more time, capital, and long-term view to carry our properly.
The two of us had participated in the Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings course and had used the opportunity to develop holistic goals for our farm's future. We had taken the course's planning process very seriously and had developed a business plan to use as a road map that was reviewed by more experienced farmers who gave us a few welcomed doses of reality that we used to revise our plans. With all of that work under our belts and the plan in hand, we had a pretty good idea of what we were looking for and a lot of support from our community as we sought the solution. We posted on land links and in classified ads, fielded calls from many landowners to see if we shared the same goals, and looked at dozens of farms on the market, and even met some wonderful private investors.
I won't go into our story of finding land tenure at length. Our solution wouldn't necessarily fit anyone else's situation. Besides, we're still beginning farmers - we don't know if our story has "a happy ending". However, I do want to share a key piece to our puzzle that might also help someone else find a solution.
The biggest problem we faced is a problem we share with many beginning farmers. With current land prices and all of the infrastructure, mechanization, and general expenses of starting a new farm, it would be difficult to come up with enough capital to make it all happen. We were entering farming with experience, but we still needed to build many of the assets that our fully grown business would require in order to function smoothly.
Through the Farm Beginnings Course, we'd heard of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and been given a very brief introduction to some of their programs. However, we'd also heard some rumors and had developed the impression that it would be very difficult to get a loan through this agency. Because of the rumors, we didn't initially reach out to FSA to see how we could leverage its programs. It wasn't until much later in our land access story that we struck up a conversation with a very outgoing and informative FSA agent in the exhibit hall at a conference, and learned that there might be some real opportunities in working with FSA to develop the future of our farm.
After that conference, we struck up a relationship with our local FSA office. We set up an initial meeting to ask questions, explain our goals, and explore the potential of working with FSA to purchase a farm. We learned that the interest rates on FSA loans were extremely low and that we would probably qualify to receive one. I was surprised to learn that FSA could only help provide loans for initial farm purchases, but that they can't refinance one you already own.
We also learned that there are many different types of FSA loans. Several different varieties of Farm Ownership Loans can be used in different ways to purchase farms. There are also Intermediate Loans that can help farmers purchase equipment, certain infrastructure, or breeding stock for their enterprises. Operating Loans can be used for annual cash flow issue in an operation - for example, if you needed to purchase your year's hay supply before you would be planning to receive a big payment from livestock sales. There are Microloans that have a shorter application form and can help a producer with smaller projects or investments. There are even special Farm Storage Facility Loans that can be used to help purchase infrastructure such as hay storage or refrigerated storage units.
Depending on the farm's enterprise, goals, and willingness to take on debt, there may be several different options for someone to purchase a farm or capitalize the operation they're already working on.
In our story, the business plan that we had created through Farm Beginnings became a template that we used to "play out" a few different scenarios. What would be the financial cost over time of an implement versus additional annual labor? If our farm changes scale, what does that mean for our farm's financial situation? We considered the goals we had for our business and our life and looked at different ways we could achieve what we hoped for.
When we finally felt that we understood where we wanted to go, we made the plunge into the world of FSA with our business plan as our guide, trying to be cautious about taking on only debt that we had a plan to repay. The application process did take time and patience, but the staff helped us complete the paperwork and explained the process along the way. With the help of FSA, we were eventually able to purchase farmland and capitalize our operations to fit the scale and needs of the new property.
When we look our over our farm now, we feel that the opportunity was well worth the effort. While we still don't know our story's ending, our land tenure now enables us to invest the time, energy, and money into building our soils, adding necessary infrastructure, growing our operations, and moving toward our goal of using best management practices on the land.
FSA's loan programs are not going to be the solution to everyone's land access or farm growth puzzle. HOwever, for those who are still looking for a little support to capitalize their farm for the future, I recommend taking the time to investigate what opportunities FSA might be able to offer you. To find your local FSA office, see offices.sc.egov.usda.gov
Lauren Langworthy is an organic farmer and the MOSES Events & Education Specialist
From the January | February 2017 Issue
Ask A Specialist - Raising Livestock Without Permanent Pastures
Nov | 2016
MOSES Organic Broadcaster | Lauren Langworthy
Can I raise livestock on forage if I don't have a perennial pasture?
The National Organic Program states that ruminant must receive a significant portion of their daily nutrition (30%) from pasture. This means that they must harvest (eat) living plants that have roots in the soil. However, the rule does not state that the pasture must be perennial.
There are a few different reasons a farmer might not choose to establish perennial pasture. These include economic considerations, land tenure, or the desire to utilize livestock as part of a soil-building rotation with crops or between alfalfa establishments. Other farmers have perennial pastures, but wish to extend the grazing season in either spring or fall outside their perennial pasture fields. In these scenarios, it may make sense for a farmer to consider annual forage rotations.
Depending on the species you are raising, different species of forages may be a better fit. For example, there are some wonderful forage varieties of sorghum-sudangrass that provide high yields and good feed value. They can also be grazed multiple times if managed properly. However, they grow best in midsummer and should not be grazed below 18-20 inches due to concerns for prussic acid poisoning that is more likely to occur when younger plants are grazed. Sorghum-sudangrasses can also provide benefits within a crop rotation by suppressing weeds and offering a large amount of biomass to be grazed or trampled into the soil.
Annual forages can also be used to extend the grazing season for your livestock as your pastures slow down for the season. An example of this might be planting turnips in July or August to be grazed late into the fall and early winter. Some farmers will plant into standing oat or wheat stubble; some fly-over seed into standing corn; and, others prepare a rough bed with tillage. Depending on your field, early weed control may be necessary to make certain that you have adequate yields for your livestock. Livestock will graze the greens and pull up the root masses late into the season, sometimes even digging into the snow to retrieve these high-protein treats.
You can also use annual forages for early spring grazing. Clovers or annual cold-hardy grains like winter rye, triticale, or spring oats can be used for early spring forages. Depending on your location, soil, and forage needs, some spring forages can be planted in the fall to emerge in spring. Others may be best frost-seeded early in the season and grazed from mid-spring to early summer.
With some research and experience, many farmers are learning how to leverage the nutritional support of these annual forage crops to extend their grazing season, build soil, and manage field rotations for their livestock. If this appeals to you, reach out to other graziers in your area and see what has worked on their farms.
I'M AN ORIGINAL CATCHPHRASE
Protecting Water, Protecting the Land
Nov | 2016
LSP's Ear to the Ground Blog | Lauren & Caleb Langworthy
This spring, a marketing firm hired by WEC Energy Group stopped by our farm a number of times. They wanted us to sign an agreement allowing an Environmental Impact Statement to be done so that a natural gas pipeline could be laid through our front field. We worried that all the work we had done improving that field would be for naught if it were disturbed for the project. We also feared that the pipe could compromise the integrity of our operation and water if it were to fail.
Despite the firm's persistence, we both refused to sign any documentation and WEC chose to not run the pipeline through our field. Rather, they began moving forward with two other proposed routes. This situation really scared us. Were we going to have to hire a lawyer? Was this going to happen whether or not we consented? We are young farmers and relatively new to the land that we steward, but having worked so closely with it, still have very deep ties to these acres. If the project had continued, we would have been devastated.
Throughout the summer and fall, we've been watching the community come together to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their resistance to an Energy Transfer Partners project called the Dakota Access Pipeline. We feel solidarity with their cause. It's hard to ignore people proclaiming "Water is Life" and asking for assistance. We followed friends' social media posts, the Bismarck newspaper, and alternative media coverage of this struggle. We've learned that indigenous communities across North America suffer from high levels of poverty and suicide rates and that access to economic opportunities and fresh food is often limited.
Last week, we were lucky enough to leave the farm with a sitter for a few days. We used that time to deliver the two tons of produce donated from the family farms in our area to the camps at Standing Rock. We are proud of our local community for stepping up to nourish folks working to protect the water. Many of the farmers mentioned that they wished they could do more, but as the truck was unloaded, we witnessed a deep appreciation of what had been given.
It's hard to explain in its entirety what it is like at Standing Rock. We found a peaceful and prayerful community that was respectful, humble, educating, and generous. We met folks from every corner of the country that came to stand in solidarity and pray. There were local government proclamations of support from Colorado to New York during our visit. While there, we participating in nonviolent direct action training from organizers involved in indigenous and Chicano issues and the Black Lives Matter movement. We all understood that access to clean water is a basic right we all share in common. The trainers and leadership repeatedly reminded everyone that we are strongest when we stand and act together with good intentions.
At Standing Rock, we see a struggle in which a corporation is putting profits above the interests of people who have inhabited that land for many generations. Rural communities on the Bakken Formation struggle to thrive through the volatility of petroleum markets. We see common cause with the work that the Land Stewardship Project engages in. Farmers work hard to steward and protect the land they live so closely with, and LSP's membership understands the destructive nature of extreme energy extraction, and the connection between the frac sand mined from the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, and the barrels of oil flowing from the fracked Bakken Shale.
The Land Stewardship Project has also committed itself to racial justice. Our farm lies on ground that was once inhabited by the Santee Dakota and later the Ojibwe people. Our immigrant fore bearers benefited by extracting resources from this land and we are still benefiting from it today. The crisis at Standing Rock arose when the pipeline project was rerouted from Bismarck suburbs, where residents had expressed concerns for their environmental welfare, to the sacred lands adjoining the Standing Rock Reservation. We believe that indigenous rights are once again being abused by our government and that the structural racism involved in the Standing Rock crisis needs to be acknowledged and examined.
The Standing Rock Sioux are calling out for allies to lend support to their cause and goal: to deny Energy Transfer Partners an easement to drill underneath the Missouri River. They have asked that folks led support through their physical presence, donations, and by calling on representatives in the government to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the governor of North Dakota are calling for a closure of the encampment by Dec. 5, the need for our action with representatives has become even more urgent.
Each of us needs to think of the best ways to leverage our skills, time, abilities, and resources to stand up for the world we plan to live in. Together, we can move forward into a future that is just and equitable. Together, we can work together to protect our water and our land so that these critical resources may support the coming generations. It's hard to ignore the chants of "Water is Life." Let's all take a moment to listen, and to respond.
Land Stewardship Project members and Farm Beginnings graduates Caleb and Lauren Langworthy farm near Wheeler, Wis. Lauren also serves on LSP's Federal Farm Policy Committee. For more information on how to best support the people standing up to the Dakota Access Pipeline project, see the Oceti Sakowin Camp website.
Ask A Specialist - Bale-Grazing and Organic Certification
Sept | 2016
MOSES Organic Broadcaster | Lauren Langworthy
Can I bale graze non-certified livestock in a certified organic hay field this winter?
Livestock that are certified organic must only be fed certified organic feed. Sometimes, though, producers find themselves in a situation where they’re feeding un-certified animals on certified organic ground. For example, you may custom graze someone else’s herd on your own certified organic pastures, or you may rotate livestock onto hay or crop fields during your off-season so that you can use their manure and soil-building abilities to support the coming year’s production.
In a short answer, yes, you can graze non-certified livestock on land where you grow a certified organic crop. These un-certified animals do not need to be fed certified organic feed simply because they are on your certified organic ground.
However, if you are planning to manage uncertified animals on certified ground, there are a few considerations you will want to think about. It is likely that your certifier will consider the waste hay, dropped feed, and manure in terms of applied manure with bedding. However, different certifiers could take different viewpoints on how to categorize the application. It is important to check with your certifier before taking any action that could endanger the certification of that land.
You will want to be certain that the feedstuffs you are using won’t be leeching prohibited substances into your pasture. Using the example of hay—you may want to make sure the hay you are purchasing doesn’t have strings or netting that has been treated with a prohibited substance like a fungicide. I would recommend asking your supplier about the netting, wrapping, or strings that were used on the crop before making a purchase, then checking with your certifier if the binding was treated before purchasing. If the hay does have treated binding and your certifier allows you to use it, you’ll want to remove the wrapping and take it off pasture to prevent the substance from leeching into your soil.
While you’re speaking with the supplier, you will also want to know if the feed was treated with any fungicides, preservatives, or inoculants that are not approved in organic production. Again, if any of these substances have been applied, you should talk to your certifier before proceeding.
By asking good questions and thinking ahead, you can help your land benefit from some helpful animal pressure in your offseason, even if the livestock isn’t certified. Please just proceed with caution and in good communication with your certifier to make sure that your productive crop season ahead is in good standing with the NOP
Ask A Specialist - Finding Organic Marketplaces
May | 2016
MOSES Organic Broadcaster | Lauren Langworthy
I'm transitioning to organic. When should I start looking for organic marketplaces for my new organic production?
One of the most important—and most overlooked—steps in the process of transitioning is to plan ahead for a marketplace where you will be able to move your organic products. Because an outlet for your goods is such an important part of the financial health of your farm, you should make an extra effort to set yourself up for success long before you have organic goods to sell. If you’re coming up on your certification date and haven’t yet found a buyer, you risk losing the important price premiums that will help your organic farm thrive. Instead, plan ahead!
Begin conversations with grain elevators, creameries, co-ops, farmers’ market managers, wholesale buyers, or whoever helps you move your products long before you’re ready to sell. You may even want to begin these conversations before you begin transitioning to organic so that you can be certain the plans you’re making will be well received at a price point that works to support your production.
Depending on what you’re producing, the new “marketplace” may be similar to (or even the same as) your previous one—or it might be vastly different. An example of a marketplace that doesn’t require many changes in marketing might be transitioning from selling non-certified produce to wholesale accounts or at a farmers’ market. Producers making this sort of transition may find that the price point they can request improves with proof of certification, but little else has to be modified from previous relationships and sales methods. Certification may even increase your opportunity to expand into additional farmers’ markets or wholesale accounts by giving you a preferred ranking.
However, some marketplaces treat organic products completely different than they do nonorganic. If you sell commodity crops to local co-ops or elevators, you may need to seek out new buyers in order to maintain the organic integrity and price point of your crops.
In that same vein, if you are a dairy producer, you may be surprised to learn that you’ll be signing a multiple-year contract to produce for a creamery purchasing organic milk instead of having your prices fluctuate frequently due to the marketplace demands. While it requires learning a new system, these contracts can be extremely valuable as you plan the future of your business and consider accessing credit for farm infrastructure. You may have to seek out new relationships if your current creamery does not deal in organic milk. Again, it is much better to get on a list and have a buyer expecting you than to learn too late that the creamery you’d hoped to work with will not be accepting new producers at the time you are ready to start selling organic product.
While finding a new buyer can be daunting, it’s also good to learn about the opportunities that are available to you. Because the relationships and structure of your sales may differ significantly from your previous experiences, it’s important to begin preparing for these changes well in advance. As you research the local landscape of organic marketing opportunities, you might learn that certain crops will not be well supported while others might offer an exceptionally good price. The more of this information you have at your fingertips before beginning your farm’s transition, the better prepared you can be with contracts and rotation plans that will allow you to be successful in your newly established organic enterprise.
Keep in mind that the more you can utilize the transition period to practice your organic production skills, organic seed varieties, and relationships with future buyers, the more likely you will be to experience success when your certification finally comes. Planning ahead and preparing for the future will help you find stable footing as you move into new mindsets for your production.
Preparing for a Healthy Birthing Season
Jan | 2016
MOSES Organic Broadcaster | Lauren Langworthy
My husband and I have a mid-sized flock of sheep on our farm in west-central Wisconsin. This time of year, the ewes are happily awaiting spring lambs. While we expect the majority of births to happen quietly in a dark corner of the barn without much fuss, we know from experience that some will not go according to plan. Breached births, prolapses, exhausted mothers, stillborn lambs—those are the births that we dread. We realize that a healthy lambing season—or birthing season for any animal—requires planning and care long before the impending births.
Two of the major factors that lead to a good birthing season include healthy environmental conditions and well-balanced nutrition. Before I go further, let me make it clear that I am not a veterinarian. All major health concerns with your livestock should be dealt with through with your veterinarian. My expertise in managing pregnant livestock comes from experience as a farmer and training as a MOSES Organic Specialist. While injury and illness will inevitably visit the farm, it is important that we do everything in our power to create conditions for healthy animals.
The organic standards automatically help farmers like me create healthy conditions for livestock by requiring access to the outdoors, pasture, and encouraging reasonable stocking densities. Creating a farm culture where emergencies are less likely is especially important to the mission and success of organic farms, but farms of all kinds can benefit from thinking ahead and creating systems for livestock health and wellbeing.
For all mammals, the development of a healthy baby relies heavily on the condition and nutrition of the mother throughout gestation. These factors will also impact her lactation and will be key to the success of that new offspring until it is able to forage for its own full diet. Obesity, malnourishment, infection, and the lack of vital minerals and nutrients can all negatively impact the baby, mother, and the birthing process. Even simple measures like hoof trimming before breeding or early in gestation can reduce strain on your livestock and prevent a more serious issue when an animal is unwilling or unable to walk later on.
One example of body condition causing a problem is ketosis (also known as pregnancy toxemia), which is a common issue for several species. Mothers who are overweight or underweight are susceptible to this ailment in which the body dips into its fat reserves for energy, but creates too many ketones in the process. The build-up of ketones in the body leads to depression and a disinterest in eating, which can spiral out of control. Ketosis can be managed in its early stages, but can lead to death as the condition worsens.
The best way to avoid the potentially devastating effects of nutritional issues like these and promote a smooth birth process is to make sure your breeding animals are in good condition throughout pregnancy—not too heavy and not too thin. You can manage their condition by balancing their rations. I recommend doing nutrition tests on samples of your hay and feedstuffs to be certain of the ingredients you are working with. There are resources available through Extension services and online to help build rations. Many of these allow you to input your own forage test results and then balance the various components of nutrition with added grain and other supplements to meet the nutritional needs of your livestock species at various stages of life (e.g., lactation, finishing, early or late gestation).
As you consider the forage, hay, and supplementation that your livestock will have access to, also be conscious of the fact that the growing fetus will be taking more and more space usually occupied by the stomach(s) and rumen as the birth approaches. This means that the mother will be needing to pull more nutrition out of less available space as the baby grows and places higher demands on her body. Plan for her to eat smaller amounts with more frequency, and understand that she will need higher quality feeds to help her with this difficult task.
It is often necessary to divide your herd into two or more management groups by age or weight in order to maintain ideal body conditions with the diverse needs of individuals within your herd. Larger, dominant, un-bred, or more aggressive animals can be managed together in one group and smaller, younger, or more submissive animals in another. Dividing your stock into multiple groups based on their needs means that you can offer each group a ration better suited to their needs. It also allows more equal access to the feed, water and minerals when the members of the group are more evenly matched.
Beyond general body condition, it is important to provide your animals the vitamin and mineral resources they require. Depending on your soil types, region, and livestock species, many health effects can be seen as a result of unbalanced minerals. During pregnancy, birth, and lactation, deficiencies that would otherwise have been subclinical can become aggravated by the high demands on the mother’s body and become a source of health problems. New livestock can also go quickly downhill if they are deficient in necessary nutrients.
For example, a selenium deficiency can cause White Muscle Disease (also known as nutritional myopathy) in lambs, calves, and foals. This disease impairs the cardiac and skeletal muscles of young stock and, if left untreated, often results in death. Trace minerals can be quite difficult to manage in pasture systems. Many methods exist to support the needs of your livestock ranging from free-choice options to feed additives or injections. I would advise seeking council from your veterinarian about the best way to ensure your livestock have a good balance of needed minerals. Taking the time to create a good system will help you avoid the detrimental effects of deficiencies.
Keeping a clean environment for your livestock will help throughout gestation, birth, and life. Depending on the species you raise, there are many infections—including abortive infections—that will affect the health of your livestock and their ability to carry a baby to full term and deliver successfully. Before and after birth, general sanitation around your housing and pasture will help reduce chances for infections. Water should be clean. Bedding should be kept clean and dry. Make certain that your housing options have clean air circulating. Also, keep watch for new little ones who collect meals from several mothers. With sheep, they’ll usually have a dirty face, which is a tell-tale sign that they’ve been sneaking in from behind in the hopes of going unnoticed. Their mother may have abandoned them, may not be able to produce the needed nutrition, or may be suffering from an infection causing them to be protective of tender teats. As that little one sneaks a suckle from various sources, it can spread infection and create a much larger and more serious problem for you to manage. If you see these behaviors, you may want to offer supplemental nutrition in the form of bottle or bucket feedings and take the time to inspect the mother (and possibly the whole group) for signs of infection, deficiencies, or disease.
Whether you are calving, lambing, farrowing, kidding, foaling or otherwise, thinking ahead can help save you a lot of heartache down the road. Testing your forage, balancing a ration to meet your animals’ needs, and making sure the environment is set up for your livestock’s success will ensure a healthy pregnancy, encourage an easy birth, and promote a good start for your new young stock.
Lauren Langworthy is a farmer and organic specialist at MOSES.
From the January | February 2016 Issue
Around the Farm Table - Bike To The Barn
Nov | 2015
Wisconsin Public Television | Inga Witscher
Inga Witscher, host of the Wisconsin Public Television Program, Around the Farm Table, visits Blue Ox to learn more about our flock and the concept of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in this ongoing series featuring Wisconsin's family farms.
Watch the Video:
Aug | 2014
Minnesota Public Radio | Daily Circuit
Lauren Langworthy | young farmer at Blue Ox Organics in Wheeler, Wisconsin
Karen Stettler | Farm Beginnings Program Organizer at Land Stewardship Project
Traci Bruckner | Senior Policy Associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, former chair of the USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers
Farmfest is underway this week near Redwood Falls in southern Minnesota. The annual agricultural showcase includes the usual political forums and a look at the newest farm equipment.
But this year it also puts a focus on young farmers - with a day dedicated to those looking into farming or early in their farming career. Getting started in farming is hard these days - and the average age of Minnesota farmers, 56.6 in 2012, continues to rise.
On the Daily Circuit, we look at the barriers facing people who want to get into farming, and the programs in Minnesota to support and recruit new farmers.
One of those organizations is Minneapolis-based Land Stewardship Project.
"It helps evaluate and instruct young farmers on what they need to do to get started, said Karen Stettler, who oversees the organization's Farm Beginnings Program.
"The Farm Beginnings program really helps people to think about their deeply held values and beliefs, put that into a goal, and then to also make sure to follow that goal up with helping them to assess finances and marketing strategies," she said.
In the past 17 years, about 600 people have gone through the program, and about 60 percent are still farming, Stettler said.
Listen To The Audio:
Getting a Fresh Start: Dunn County Farmers Find Connections to Put Themselves on Path to Success
Jan | 2014
The Country Today | Nate Jackson
Caleb and Lauren Langworthy of Blue Ox Organics would like you to visit their farm.
The Langworthys, who have owned their 153-acre farm just north of Wheeler for a year, would like you to see how their flock of Coopworth sheep - and their guard llamas - are treated and discuss with you their growing practices and what it takes to create a whole-system design for a farm.
As the Langworthys have found, these connections benefit not only the consumer, ut the farmer as well.
"We've met so many great people, and had so many great mentors along the way to where we are now," Lauren said, mentioning a retired farmer and neighbor who has stopped in to offer advice and introductions to others in the community and a friend who brought his toolbox to their farm-warming party. "I can't imagine trying to start a farm without any help from the community."
The couple, both 28, started Blue Ox Farm - which became Blue Ox Organics with the move to the new farm - on rented land near Mondovi in 2012. They began selling produce at Just Local Food Cooperative in Eau Claire and Menomonie Market Food Co-Op, but with a limited amount of land and uncertainty surrounding the future with the rental, it didn't take long before they were looking to expand, either through a long-term land rental agreement or by buying a farm of their own.
"It's really hard to do organic produce, let alone whole-system farming when you are on rented land," Lauren said. "It was a long-term plan to remain farmers. We just needed to figure out how to make that happen."
It was through connections with their produce buyer at Just Local Food that the Langworthys landed an unusual opportunity for young farmers looking to buy land.
"One of their customers approached the produce buyer saying they had money they would like to invest in an organic farm," Lauren said. "(The investors) essentially posed the question, 'Do you know of anyone?' And they said, 'We happen to know of someone.'"
After several months of making sure both parties knew what they were getting involved in and going over the Langworthys' extensive business plan, the investors helped them buy their Wheeler property.
"They didn't invest in our operation on blind faith," Caleb said. "We had significant experience in organic production, as well as having taken the Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings course."
But the decision to invest in the farm gave the Langworthys the opportunity they needed to grow their business.
"They were able to get the property off the market while we worked with (the Farm Service Agency) to get our loans organized," Lauren said. "They gave us a nice opportunity to get started."
"To be able to transition the land into organic production would have been really difficult to do otherwise and pay the bills."
Finding the Wheeler property allowed the Langworthys to quickly secure several organic certifications. Land from the Conservation Reserve Program and fallow fields, including their pastures and hay ground, were certified right away, and the couple is now in the process of certifying several other fields. They will have certified organic produce in June.
In their year on the new property, the Langworthys have increased vegetable production at Blue Ox by about 25 percent, hayed about 40 acres, cover cropped about 30 acres, added fencing and a high tunnel brought their breeding stock of Coopworth sheep and machinery and plowed up what will become the extension of the garden.
"This year, we'll be roughly the same size (as 2013), then next year we'll double our production," Caleb said. "That is part of our plan to grow to a scale we could make a living at while keeping our initial investments relatively low. And what that takes is time."
The couple is working to get their greenhouse up this winter and they plan to quadruple their flock of sheep in the next four years.
"We had always planned on livestock, and we had gone back and forth between beef and sheep," Caleb said.
They settled on Coopworth sheep - a dual-purpose wool and meat breed - after custom grazing sheep and serving some internships under Hidden Valley Farm & Woolen Mill near Manitowoc, where they bought their flock.
"I really took to the sheep that we were custom grazing," Lauren said. "When we were looking at this property, we looked at the numbers for beef. We felt that to do them grass-based, we would have to weather a two-year cycle with them. The sheep ended up making more sense for our business plan."
"Ruminant animals fit into our idea of a whole-system design of a farm pretty well," Caleb said.
"They'll really help us with fertility, especially in the garden, and bring back fallow land into production," Lauren said.
In addition to selling produce to co-ops in Menomonie and Eau Claire, Blue Ox Organics will offer pastured lamb and wool, crop elderberries for wineries, and an elderberry cooperative forming in Minnesota, possibly sell hay and will be starting a Community Supported Agriculture program.
"We'll give a newsletter with recipes along with updates with what's going on on the farm," Caleb said. "We think of CSA as a way to include the community on what we are doing here."
"The ability to visit the farm and see that the sheep are happy and healthy and on grass is one of the benefits to knowing your farmer," Lauren said. "It gives them a way to get to know their farmer and where their food comes from. And Caleb's a really good cook, so I anticipate the recipes will be great."
In about a year, the Langworthys expect their first lamb crop. They plan to deliver whole and half lambs and offer a possible CSA add-on.
"We're really excited to set up a whole-system farm," Caleb said. "We feel like after a long search, we've found the right one.
"We feel incredibly grateful to have people willing to help us build equity. We feel like it is a worthwhile investment in ourselves and our future. It takes a lot of drive to do this, but it's our passion"
Farm Profile: Blue Ox Organics
Aug | 2014
From the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, head east into Wisconsin for just over an hour to find the land Caleb and Lauren Langworthy lovingly farm and call their own.
The couple runs Blue Ox Organics. They began farming on rented land, with a year-to-year lease agreement. "We pretty quickly into that lease realized that we wouldn't be able to invest what we needed into the soil," Caleb explained. He and Lauren were looking to grow vegetables sustainably, and couldn't justify the investment to build up the soil with no long-term security on the land.
So, the duo started looking for a more long-term lease. Their two major markets were Just Local Food and Menomonie Market, both co-ops in Wisconsin. They had built up a relationship with these two markets and were looking to stay within the region. "We maybe talked to a couple dozen landowners about a long-term lease, but everything came back with a catch," Lauren shared. She explained that a lot of the land in their area went to corn farmers and it was difficult to break in and get land tenure.
One of their buyers, Bob Andruszkiewicz at Just Local Food Co-Op, ended up helping the pair connect with some investors. "He ended up being a real champion for us," Caleb remembered. Lauren added,"When we would be in the store delivering food, he would pull us over to customers and make us blush and talk us up wonderfully."
Bob, along with another local farmer, led Caleb and Lauren to two private investors that were interested in using their purchasing power to help small-scale local agriculture. "They were looking for something that fit their ideals to put their money into," explained Caleb. The Langworthys began talking with the potential investors about what they wanted to do and everyone involved decided that they were well matched.
The couple came up with an extensive business plan to present to the investors, given direction from the Land Stewardship Project. The investors were satisfied and ready to commit to the pair. A handshake agreement led to a switch from looking for leased land to a search for land to purchase. The understanding was that the investors would purchase the land and the farmers would either lease or mortgage that land.
They began to search again looking at another couple dozen properties. Many were out of their price range because of lucrative mining and hunting in the area, or were homesteads that had fallen into disrepair and were more of a liability than an asset. Of the many properties they visited, they only brought the investors to four of them. Much of the legwork and time commitment was on the shoulders of the farmers. This allowed them to make decisions based on their own needs and ideas, as well as making the process easier for the investors.
Lauren and Caleb would rework the business plan for each piece of land, adjusting it to the unique aspects of every property. When they finally found a situation that suited both the farmers and the investors, the investors purchased it outright. "They used their purchasing power to take (the property) off the market," said Lauren. The owners wanted to close by the end of the year. This would have been a nearly impossible time frame if they had gone through a bank. The cash purchase also had the added benefit of a better price per acre.
After closing, everyone decided that it would be best for the farmers to purchase the land. Caleb and Lauren were able to purchase the land and satisfy the investors by splitting the mortgage on the 153-acre farm and homestead. The private investors hold just over half the value of the farm in their mortgage. A second mortgage to cover the remainder was obtained through a Farm Service Agency (FSA) "Joint Financing Farm Ownership Loan" agreement. In this respect, the risk of the investment is split.
The investors have the first lien on the property. The second lien belongs to the FSA. This way, if something goes wrong, the investors will be able to recoup their initial investment. If the value remains steady, the FSA will also be able to get their investment returned. If for some reason the property value depreciates, the private investors will still receive their portion of the mortgage if the property is sold, and the FSA will receive the rest."
As extra assistance to the farmers, the dual mortgages come with some additional help.
The mortgage with the FSA is interest-free for the first year, then had a graduated interest scale, until year 5 when the Langworthys will be paying the full interest. The private investors will sit on their investment for the first 5 years, at which point the mortgage will begin to be paid. The interest from the first five years are added to the principle.
The FSA agent who handled the Blue Ox Mortgage, Sheri Houtakker, had heard of split mortgages, but this was the first time she had been able to use the shared-risk method. "She was excited to partner with us. It was really exciting. Everyone involved kind of felt like they were fulfilling their mission," Lauren recalled.
Both Caleb and Lauren thank the Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings Program for helping them "speak business." The financial side of farming is one they felt was often left out of farm internships. "I had a lot of experience working on farms and I was ready to jump into running my own business," said Caleb, "(The LSP program) really helped give me confidence in creating a financially sound farm business." Being comfortable with the business side, the couple says, put them on a more level playing field when negotiating with investors.
Blue Ox Land Access Story
Nov | 2013
The Land Stewardship Letter | Alex Baumhardt
Caleb and Lauren Langworthy approached their farm dream like racecar drivers. They assembled a pit crew of people that could help them get moving and who were invested in seeing them succeed. They spent years honing their farming skills and months developing the financial cops and network that resulted in land ownership. The process was multifaceted and, at times, almost haltingly difficult, but Blue Ox Organics now has two experienced, ambitious and able-bodied farmers at the wheel.
Finances and Farm Beginnings
in 2010, the Langworthys, native Minnesotans, made their return to the state after gaining extensive experience in sustainable farming in Washington. Caleb had studied sustainable agriculture at Evergreen State College in Olympia and had, among other things, worked on what is reportedly the most diversified farm in the state. Lauren was an AmeriCorps volunteer who was involved in the Master Gardner and 4-H programs in Olympia. She worked with low-income neighborhoods and youth, as well as at senior centers, teaching people in the community about the origin and economics of their food and how to grow it in their own backyards.
Between the two of them, they were building a solid knowledge of low-input, sustainable agriculture and community outreach, but neither had developed a keen sense of the financial responsibilities that came with running a farm. "I did five internships while I was getting into sustainable agriculture," Caleb 28, explains, "and the finances were the one thing that was often left out. I knew that was going to be the weak spot."
In Rochester, Minn., Caleb was teaching an urban gardening program to at-risk youths when he heard of the Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings course (www.farmbeginnings.org). He and Lauren saw it as a now-or-never opportunity to start their own enterprise.
"It was sort of right on the cusp of the internships and everything when we were kind of stepping into farming and starting to wonder if we should have our own business," Lauren, 27, says.
The couple received a Farm Beginnings scholarship for the course and found some land to rent on a year-to-year basis just south of Eau Claire, Wis. All of the sudden, they were farmers, farming. "We had a place and some financial education and we had connected with a Farm Business Management Instructor through Farm Beginnings, and then it was, like, well, now we've got kind of a mentor and our finances and we're doing it," says Lauren.
They started vegetable production in 2012 on their rented land and connected with some local markets. But several months into production, they knew they weren't going to be able to do a year-to-year lease again. "We had to get off the rented land," Lauren says. Caleb and Lauren had long-term goals for their farm that required production methods needing two to three years to show results, something they couldn't rely on with a year-to-year lease.
The Land Search
The Langworthys started looking into different ways to secure land tenure in the Eau Claire and Menomonie, Wis. area where they had developed great relationships with buyers at the markets they sold to. They considered long-term leases, lease-to-purchase and contract-for-deed arrangements. They were intimidated by land prices and were focused on rental options that would give them some longevity so they could build the soil they weould grow on. What they found were many absentee landowners who couldn't give them that long-term security, or many that had their own ideas about what the young farmers should be doing on the land.
"Many of (the landowners) really wanted to be a part of the farm, and that's great in some ways, but when it's your business, you need the flexibility to be making your own decisions," Lauren says.
The Langworthys resolved to buy land with the hope that they could secure a USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) beginning farmer loan. For three months, the couple would look through listings and network within the community, as well as talk to friends at church, at the co-ops and at farmers' markets. Then, once a week, they would take a day to look at six to ten properties in an area. Over a period of three months, they looked at over 100 farms. Most in their budget were bare ground, fallow, or old hunting properties. Some had poor soil from years of monocultura soybean and corn production, no infrastructure, or deteriorating structures that could almost be pushed over with one hand. Other new farmers they talked to told them to avoid the, "I can just build on it" mentality. Beginning farmers they knew didn't get insulation installed in their renovated home until they were on their property for three years.
"After a while we were almost like, is this even worth doing or should I go abck to my job teaching?" Caleb recalls.
While the Langworthys were busy looking for land and trying to sell their produce, one of their buyers was busy selling the farming couple. At one of the co-ops in Eau Claire, they had a worker-owner who delighted in talking about them and the quality of their produce. He was their biggest advocate, and he would stop people in the community to introduce Lauren and Caleb and see if anyone had some leads on land.
"He was huge with helping us connect to a network of people who could help us find long-term access to land," Caleb says. All of his pitching paid off when a couple who were longtime customers of the co-op told him that they were looking to invest some money in an organic farm, and that they would like to meet with the Langworthys.
The two couples sat down to talk long-term farming ventures and to sort through their mutual skepticism. The Langworthys were curious about this type of socially-minded investment and what kind of control the investors would want to have over the farm. The private investors were curious about how the young couple would pull off a farm business and how risky their investment would be.
The Langworthys' ability to talk both farming and business and the financial knowledge they'd picked up in the Farm Beginnings course impressed the private investors and made them feel more secure in investing in the pair. "If we had only been able to speak in terms of farming, I don't know that it would have worked out very well," Lauren says.
The two parties held these discussions on the Langworthy's business proposal for a month or so before they all started looking at land together. Then they spent three months looking for land, going through business plans and negotiating one another's desires. The investors had owned several businesses and knew what it would take to get a new enterprise into a profitable place.
In the beginning, the Langworthys were interested in raising elderberries, starting a small vegetable Community Supported Agriculture operation, and buying organic feeder calves to raise grass-fed beef. The investors were keen on all of these ideas except the grass-fed beef. They thought feed prices were too high, and waiting two years for the finished product was too risky for a beginning farm. So, they all agreed on sheep as an alternative. That way, the young farmers would have animals to help build the land's fertility while producing cash flow with the wool and lamb.
"It was a pretty symbiotic relationship going back and forth with them," Lauren says. "In the end, we found a plan that everyone was excited about."
"Communication was huge," Caleb adds. "We went back and forth with business plans - two or three times a day we would be answering and asking a litany of questions."
After a business plan was settled on, the investors were pretty hands-off. "They said they were ready to defer decisions to our best judgement and the judgement of our mentors," Caleb says. "They're not involved in running the farm."
After a six-month search for land that covered over 100 farms, the farmers and the investors narrowed it down to eight possibilities and then to one: a 153-acre former dairy farm near Wheeler, Wis., just outside of Menomonie. The investors closed on the property in December 2012.
Initially the plan was to have the investors buy the land, and then the Langworthys would either rent it from them or buy the property. But the farmers were worried about how they would build equity on a farm if they didn't own any of it. Eventually, the investors agreed to sell the land to them and to provide them a mortgage on it. Then, the Langworthys approached the FSA about takin on half of that mortgage so the private investors could spread the risk.
In the end, the investors used their purchasing power to buy the farm at a reasonable price per acre and get it off the market straight away, while Caleb and Lauren began the four-month-long process of getting their FSA beginning farmer loan approved. This is a "split mortgage" with the FSA - the investors have the first lien on the property.
The private investors decided that, based on the Langworthy's business plan, the farm would reasonably turn a profit in five years. They also realized that the couple would need an additional "incidentals loan" to cover fuel and other small costs. They generously allowed the farmers to defer payments on both loans for the first five years while the farm is being established, meaning the Langworthys' first mortgage payment to the investors will be in 2018. The interest accruing over those five years will be amortized - that means it is spread out over the life of the loan, and that the investors will eventually receive the interest due them over that period of time. The Langworthys only need to pay interest on the first year of their FSA loans, a bit of principle and interest during the following two years and then full mortgage payments by year four.
Today, the Langworthys are producing vegetables for their markets in Menomonie and Eau Claire, expanding their production to begin a Community Supported Agriculture operation and starting an elderberry enterprise. They recently launched a sheep operation with 50 ewes, with plans to grow to 100 breeding animals over the next four years. The Langworthys are also enrolled in the Land Stewardship Project's Journeyperson Course (www.landstewardshipproject.org/morefarmers/lspfarmernetwork) as a way to further their Farm Beginnings education and experience.
"We always tell people that it took a team to do this," Lauren says.In taking the Farm Beginnings course they had the benefit of a Farm Business Management Instructor, and through the co-op and the FSA, they received outside, private investment, secure land tenure and start-up loans. Now, their team includes a retired organic farmer a few miles down the road who has taken them under his wing and is helping them to get established in the Wheeler community.
And that team includes the community itself. Having grown up in small towns themselves, the Langworthys know that the social dynamics in rural pockets like Wheeler can be touchy to navigate. They are hoping that their contribution to keeping the countryside alive - keeping up a barn and a home as well as farming ethically - will get the community on board. As small-scale farmers in a climate of industrial agriculture, Caleb and Lauren are ready to prove that Blue Ox Organics is a necessary part of the local food economy.
"I think it's kind of up to us to prove that we're not just playing hobby here over the next 10 years," Lauren says. "They're not going to just believe that we're a business - we have to show them."
Preserving Traditions and Creating Opportunities Through Seed Saving
Sept | 2012
Second Opinion Magazine | Heather Rothbauer Wanish
Recycling, eating healthy, and carrying on a tradition... While you grow your garden and plan to harvest the results, you can combine all three of these 'going green' ideas. Seed saving offers opportunities for everyone to actively participate in growing healthy food and helping the environment at the same time.
Chippewa Valley residents are focusing on seed saving and how it can positively impact their lives and businesses. Chip Kersten, owner of Pleasant Valley Produce, believes that many people participate in seed saving for a variety of reasons. "There are people that conduct seed saving from local native prairies to save the genetics of the plants and allow new plantings, reestablished using this seed and keeping the seed genetics local," Kersten explained. "Today, many people save seeds to ensure that new, open pollinated varieties, as well as varieties with a treasured past, survive into the future."
Caleb Langworthy, owner of Blue Ox Farm, also believes that seed saving contributes positively to personal gardening knowledge. "By saving seeds from your garden, you gain the knowledge of what plant varietals work best with your specific soil type, lighting situation, and climate; it can be beneficial for getting earlier and better tasting vegetables," he said. "When moving toward localizing more of our seed production, we gain an element of food security in a way that we didn't have before." As seeds are saved locally, the plant-base becomes those crops that do well within the region and everyone within that region becomes less dependent on seed companies that continue to consolidate and release fewer varieties onto the market.
Langworthy views the practice of seed saving as a way to maintain some power over one's food consumption. "I'm very concerned about the ability of larger corporations to patent life and buy up seed varietals; I feel like this gives too much power to essentially unaccountable entities whose focus is profit, rather than the well-being and food security of people."
Noel Kroeplin is on the worker-owner track at Just Local Food in downtown Eau Claire; she agrees that seed saving provides freedom from reliance on companies that develop hybrid seeds. The local food cooperative works with Seed Savers Exchange, an organization dedicated to saving North America's diverse garden heritage while educating people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity. Caleb Langworthy also recommends Seed Savers Exchange, as the organization provides seed saving instructions on the back of each packet ordered from them. "They tend to be a bit more expensive than other seed companies, but I find the service they provide is a valuable one and they can offer varieties found nowhere else," he explained.
When a plant is grown from a seed whose parent plant is a hybrid, growers may find the resulting plant is not 'true to type'. And, eventually, the plant will most likely become sterile, not produce seed, and the grower will be forced to purchase additional seed from the company producing the hybrid seeds. "By seed-saving open-pollinated and heirloom seeds, you are saving stabilized seed, one that has been tested for generations and can be cultivated and saved from the same variety of plant for generations to come, thus reducing dependence on genetically modified seed," Noel Kroeplin explained.
There are also cost savings associated with seed saving. "In terms of cost, while there is typically an initial investment when one begins saving seeds, you can save money in the long run once you no longer need to buy seeds," Kroeplin said. Chip Kersten agrees that cost saving is a benefit to seed saving. "Even those two-dollar packs of seed can add up if you plant a big garden," he said. Seed saving is also a 'green' technique that means eliminating packaging and transportation costs associated with purchasing seeds commercially each year.
According to Kersten, seed saving can be a fairly easy, but sometimes time-consuming task. Those interested in seed saving need to do some research beforehand and should allocate time to the process. "You need to have an idea of which plants are annuals versus which plants are biennials. You might have to dig up and pot a biennial in this climate and put it in your greenhouse or basement for the winter," Langworthy explained. It is also beneficial to understand how plants are pollinated and the distance and time needed for spacing out pollination cycles.
As more and more people begin growing their own food and planting gardens, seed saving is a popular trend. "Gardening and seed saving complement each other in both the larger ideal of localized food production, as well as the ethics of producing more of our own needs with acquired skill sets and knowledge," Langworthy explained. "There are also people saving seed in order to have a supply in the event of a disaster with long-term food supply ramifications," Kersten added.
Not only is seed saving good for the environment and a potential cost-savings opportunity, it can be a unique way to meet other like-minded individuals. "There are many groups of people saving seed who also like to trade, sell, or give away their seed. It can be a fun and rewarding hobby," Kersten aid. "Many unique varieties can be obtained through these swaps and many new friendships can be started from fellow seed savers around the globe."
Overall, local growers are pleased with the move toward more seed saving. "Seed saving allows preservation of traditional heritage and ensures a food source that is not genetically modified," Kroeplin stated. "There is also a certain satisfaction from growing plants from your own saved seed; it just feels good."