CALEDONIA, Minn. – Anyone looking for Rachelle Meyer in the evenings will find her with five small children milking cows for her father-in-law and his brother. During the day she’s busy building her own farm business called Wholesome Family Farms.
Meyer likes the idea of growing food for her family, she said. And as long as she’s growing for her own brood she thought she could offer the same wholesomeness to other families. She’s successfully growing and selling pastured eggs, turkeys, chickens, beef and pork with help from her husband, Jordan Meyer.
Eggs come from Rachelle Meyer’s 63 laying hens – a mix of ISA Brown, Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock. She likes having a variety, she said, and enjoys all the breeds. Nine roosters help protect the hens. That’s more than they need but are a pretty addition to the flock.
The layers free-range in the pastures but are housed at night in an old chopper box that Jordan Meyer outfitted with nests and roosting branches. Because they’re pasture-grazing they don’t need much grain in the summer months. Winter is spent in an old hog barn.
This has been the first year for turkeys. Rachelle Meyer said she’s quite pleased with the pastured birds even though she learned turkeys need more care than chickens. Turkey chicks need to be kept at 95 degrees for four weeks before moving to pasture. Once they’re old enough for grazing they’re moved every three days using electric netting and a solar energizer. The birds have an old calf hutch for shelter but rarely use it.
Every time the turkeys are moved they need to relearn where to find the feeder that holds their grain supplement. They’re good at eating dandelion and foxtail seed heads. The birds are butchered the Friday before Thanksgiving and sold fresh.
Broiler chickens are raised in groups of 75; they follow behind the cows where they help with fly control. Meyer grows 380 birds but thinks they may expand that number in the future. Jordan Meyer planted a mix of oats, peas, barley, flax and lentils for poultry grain; he grinds it for the turkeys and cracks it for the chickens.
This year the couple raised four pigs along the edge of a field in a small woodlot – and are happy with the results. The hogs were moved every three days with one polywire holding them in the pasture. They were supplemented with the same small-grain mix as the birds. The hogs take longer to grow than confinement pigs because they use some of their calories rooting around to harvest their feed.
The beef herd consists of Red Angus, which Jordan Meyer said he likes for their small frames. Calves are nursed for 10 months; the herd is 100 percent grass-fed. Calving season stretches from February to June, which Meyer likes because it helps with marketing. He seeds rye in the fall, which the cattle terminate for him in the spring when he lets them graze. A 13-species mix follows the rye, with the main plants being sorghum, buckwheat, millet, sunn hemp and cowpeas.
Sales for all the produce is by word of mouth, a blog and Facebook. Customers can pick up at the farm, plus Rachelle Meyer’s sister takes some of the eggs to her workplace where they disappear quickly. In Minnesota the couple can sell their meat from the freezer without a permit as long as the customer picks it up there.
Plans for the future are to eventually buy into the dairy herd where the two Meyers milk cows, converting it to a grass-fed dairy while expanding their meat business. They have converted some of their land to organic and are transitioning the rest of it. Meyer said their kids love helping on the farm and are learning to help with chores. Hopefully they will be able to carry on for another generation.
LeeAnne Bulman writes about agriculture from her farm overlooking the beautiful Danuser Valley on Wisconsin’s west coast. When not writing she helps her husband on their small grain and beef farm.