Editor’s note: This article is part of a series featuring women who are serving as conservation coaches for Wisconsin Women in Conservation.
DUNN COUNTY, Wis. – Mariann Holm and her husband, Doran Holm, purchased in 1997 a small farm in Dunn County. They attended their first GrassWorks grazing conference long before owning any cattle. They participated in pasture walks hosted by the River Country Resource Conservation and Development group. The events connect beginning farmers to experienced graziers.
“We were encouraged by the expertise of those graziers and grazing specialists Mary C. Anderson and Kevin Mahalko,” Mariann Holm said.
With that encouragement the Holms laid a foundation for a pasture-based enterprise; they began a dairy in 2001. Soon after staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Dunn County began the first of many farm visits to the Holm farm. The staff provided technical assistance for topics such as cattle lanes, fencing, wildlife corridors and waterways.
With funding from the agency’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship program, the couple has been able to purchase fencing, preserve and improve waterways, manage forestland and increase pasture biomass, Holm said. In 2012 she and her husband transitioned their organic-dairy farm to an organic custom-heifer-raising operation. Each year between 35 and 60 head of heifers enjoy “summer camp” on pasture, she said. The heifers are generally on pasture from May 1 to Nov. 1.
The Holms devote 85 acres to rotational grazing; they harvest extra forage for hay. They use a diverse pasture-seeding mix of drought-tolerant winter-hardy grasses and clovers.
“Those grasses and clovers make a versatile crop either for grazing or stored feed,” she said.
Fences are generally moved on a daily basis. Pasture provides 100 percent of the daily ration for young stock during the grazing season. After the grazing season heifers return to their home farms bearing evidence of excellent-forage diets by the “happy lines” across their midsections, she said.
The Holms also offer a “winter camp” for heifers. They provide organic forage, winter housing with clean and dry bedding, and 24-hour access outdoors.
Holm recently volunteered to serve as a coach for the Wisconsin Women in Conservation.
“I believe learning is best done in relationship with a group of like-minded folks who are guided by research and experienced experts, combined with everyday practical applications,” she said.
In addition to working on her farm, she’s an organic inspector; she audits organic crops, livestock and handling facilities. She’s a member of the Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council and serves on the Menomonie Market Food Co-op Board.
The Wisconsin Women in Conservation is a statewide collaborative effort led by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in partnership with the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Renewing the Countryside, and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service – with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Wisconsin Women in Conservation brings together women landowners to connect and learn about conservation practices, resources and funding opportunities. Visit wiwic.org for more information.
Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.