Farming with nature is the Jurcek-Brattset family philosophy.
Healthy families, healthy food and a healthy environment are top priorities for all family members. They work hard daily to be excellent stewards of the land and humane livestock handlers.
“I got into grazing as a way to protect soil, ground and surface water,” Kirsten Jurcek said. “The environmental benefits of grazing and my environmental background are truly what made me want to have an organic farm, a grazing farm, a sustainable farm.”
Brattset Family Farm, located 10 miles east of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, is home to Jurcek, a second-generation farmer, and her family. The Jurcek family owns the farm with Kirsten Jurcek’s brother, Damon Brattset, and his family. The 290-acre farm, certified organic with the U.S. Department of Agriculture since 2008, provides plenty of opportunities for the family to diversify. An intensely managed rotational-grazing system for the 100 head of crossbred cattle is the family’s main priority.
“We manage pretty intensively,” Jurcek said. “I feel like our input costs are decreased because of the intensive management. (The cows are) in a smaller spot, so they graze it more evenly. They distribute their waste more evenly and then they move on. So I have less clipping to do behind them than if they had more space and could be more selective.”
Beginning toward the end of April every year, Jurcek allows her cattle into a lush pasture for the first time. Because spring forage grows more heavily, she moves the herd twice each day. When growth rate decreases for the season, Jurcek moves the herd once per day.
“I can also maintain my forage height better,” she said. “I like to keep a pretty high forage height – 12 to 14 inches – when they come out so it grows back quickly and the ground is shaded. It’s just easier for me to manage a consistent forage height faster the more frequently I move them.”
This rotational-grazing system works well for the Jurcek family as well as for the cows. The cross-breeds have genetics from British White Park, Murray Grey, Angus, Hereford and Longhorn breeds.
“I’ve been happy with all these breeds, but the British White Parks are snazzy,” she said. “They’re real stocky and very docile. They’re just kind of cute with their black noses and white ears.”
The brother-sister pair and their families placed 250 acres of their farm into a perpetual land trust, which is held by the Drumlin Area Land Trust. The conservation easement prevents that acreage from being developed any time in the future.
“My parents worked really hard to buy this farm and pay it off,” she said. “My brother and I don’t ever want the farm developed.”
Jurcek is president of the southeast chapter of Wisconsin Farmers Union. She’s also a master networker and said she’s a strong believer in buying locally. She works part-time for Glacierland Resource Conservation and Development, for GrassWorks and for Renewing the Countryside. Her projects for each of those groups intertwine with each other to help educate the public. The work allows her to network with farmers and consumers. She’s able to teach people what it means to shop locally and work with their neighbors — just as she does when she direct-markets her family’s beef.
“Working cooperatively with others to market our products is very important to the buy-local movement,” she said. “I feel like, as consumers, our communities are losing sight of local. But that’s something that’s going to be very, very important to keep farms going.”