JANESVILLE, Wis. – Farming hadn’t been on Rick Scully’s radar until he reached his late 20s. From sixth-grade through high school he lived in the city of Beloit, Wisconsin. His first few jobs involved financing and debt recovery.
But he wanted to run his own small business and live in the country, he said. He has now achieved those goals, owning and operating Poor Richard’s Farm near Janesville.
“I was bow hunting in September 2011 and I had a sudden revelation … I needed to become a farmer,” he said. “It made perfect sense. I loved being outdoors, I liked fixing stuff and operating different kinds of machinery, and I thought big animals are cool.”
Running a farm was a small business of which he could be proud.
“I was absolutely certain this was the vocation for me, even though I knew practically nothing about it,” he said.
So he participated in a two-year farm-business-management course at Stateline Farm Beginnings, part of the Angelic Organics Learning Center of Caledonia, Illinois. The course taught him how to develop a business plan. He read; Extension publications from several universities were especially helpful for learning about pasture mixes and cattle weight gain. He also read farm publications and went to the library.
“I searched the library’s catalog for ‘starting a farm’ and found the call numbers for Joel Salatin’s book, ‘You Can Farm,’” he said. “I read it cover to cover. That book started my education in agriculture.”
Scully served two internships before renting a Janesville-area farm from Rick Richard. Richard is the managing partner of RD Worldwide Inc., an employee-search and staffing company based in Janesville.
Scully and his wife, Jennifer Scully – a first-grade teacher – began in 2014 renting the farmhouse and the 35-acre farm. The fruits of their labors resulted in being able to recently purchase the farm.
“The Scullys were great renters and are a great family,” Richard said. “And I was happy the farm was going to be kept as a beef operation. Rick is on the right track with mob grazing and grass-fed production.”
Scully refers to his former landlord as “rich Richard” and to himself as “poor Richard,” hence the name Poor Richard’s Farm.
Rick Richard said with a smile, “It was meant to be.”
Scully currently grazes about 30 head of cattle, primarily of Dexter blood. The breed originated in Ireland. It was developed from the Kerry, an Irish dairy breed, through selection for smaller size and improved beef qualities, according to The Livestock Conservancy. The breed was named after a man whose surname was Dexter who promoted the breed in the mid-1800s. Dexter cattle are known to be forage-efficient and produce lean beef.
Scully grazes his cattle on a mix of fescue, alfalfa and clover. He has plans to add orchard grass and also wants to add sorghum-sudangrass, he said. He has implemented an intensive rotational-grazing program where cattle graze a paddock for about a week before being moved to another paddock. Each paddock won’t be grazed again for a month to allow forages to regenerate. He has eight paddocks on 32 acres of pasture.
He wasn’t looking forward to winter, he said.
“Feeding cattle well all winter is a lot of work,” he said. “Wintering livestock is the most expensive part of an operation.”
He produces 100-percent-grassfed beef. His cattle are provided 35 pounds of dry feed per head per day, starting about the second week of November and lasting until mid-May. The Dexter cattle reach a finished weight of 800 to 900 pounds; their carcass weight is in the 500- to 600-pound range.
“The small size of the carcass makes the breed an excellent choice for use in direct-marketing programs,” according to the Livestock Conservancy.
And direct-marketing beef is Scully’s business. He sells the beef online as well as at farmers markets in Janesville and Beloit. Poor Richard’s Farm also is listed in the Research, Education, Action and Policy – or REAP – Food Group’s “Farm Fresh Atlas.” That organization’s website provides farms good visibility and search-engine results, Scully said.
“Facebook has been our main interface with the public,” he said. “It has helped us interact with tens of thousands of people. It also has made our business a recognizable brand in the area and has definitely helped us with the majority of our sales.”