KNOW YOUR FARMERS
Kyle and Rachel Banigan, Owners
Our farm is located in Blanchardville, Wisconsin which is in the southwest part of the state. We moved to Blanchardville in the spring of 2020. Before that we lived and farmed for several years on a rented farm in Cottage Grove, WI. We got married at our farm in August of 2020 and welcomed our son Luke in November of 2021. Our farm has evolved a lot over the years. We started out with just a few beef cows and raising a few pigs each year. We have grown both of those projects as well as adding the pastured chicken operation in 2018. Also in 2018, we transitioned our cattle to being 100% Grass Fed. We utilize regenerative grazing practices on our farm and have been amazed at what can be done in just a few years!
WHAT IS REGENERATIVE?
Regenerative agriculture is made up of management practices that improve the land and environment with results such as restored soil organic matter, increased water holding capacity, increased soil, plant, and animal biodiversity, as well as several other benefits. When the land is regenerated, it becomes much more sustainable for the animals it supports. When regenerative grazing is practiced properly, it can significantly increase the carrying capacity of the land, or how many animals each acre can feed, which in turn increases how many people can be fed from each acre of land.
PASTURE RAISED CHICKEN
We raise chickens on the same pastures that we graze our cattle on. The chickens are raised inside a mobile coop called a chicken tractor. Each chicken tractor is 10 feet by 8 feet and can hold about 50 chickens. The chicken tractor is moved by hand once or twice per day, depending on the size of the chickens. This gives us a great distribution of the powerful chicken manure, which in turn fertilizes our pastures and improves them for more grazing next time around. The chickens also get a fresh clean area each day. Chickens are omnivores, so we do give them a chicken grower feed, but they also eat a ton of grass, which changes the fat contents of the chicken.
100% GRASS FED BEEF
Our beef herd was transitioned to 100% grass fed in 2018. Prior to that we had been feeding a small amount of cracked corn to our cows, and some corn and pellets to finish steers. As we learned more about regenerative agriculture, we learned that cows are herbivores, not grainivores. Cows are designed to eat grass. It's as simple as that. One of the most impressive things about cows and other ruminants like sheep is that they can essentially turn sunlight and water into nutrient rich protein for humans to eat. Through proper regenerative grazing, we can increase the forage quality of our pastures and grow some very delicious beef! All of our beef is 100% Grass Fed and Grass Finished, they have never seen a bag of feed or a feed bunk.
Almost all of the pork produced commercially is raised in slatted floor hog barns, where thousands of hogs are confined together and never see the sunshine. The barns have fans on both ends and no visitors are allowed. Our hogs don't live that life. We raise our pigs from spring to fall in the same area that the cows spend the late winter and spring. We build up a deep bedding pack of straw, hay, and corn stalks for the cows, and when the cows move out the pigs move in and do what pigs do. They dig and burrow and stir up all of that deep bedding. This is great for the pigs because it is what pigs were meant to do. It also aerates the bedding and helps it break down into compost, which can then be spread on our pastures.
The form of grazing we practice has many names such as regenerative grazing, rotational grazing, managed intensive grazing, and many other names. Basically we strive to move our cows to new grass every day during the grazing season. This movement has two main benefits. The first is that the cows will have first choice at a fresh salad bar each day. The goal is for them to never take a second bite from any blade of grass. The other main benefit is that by moving them along, we are able to let pastures rest and recover. This is very important for improving the soil and the plants that grow in it. In our first two years at our new farm, we have installed a lot of water pipe and electric fence. The water pipe allows us to move the cows' water source along with them, keeping them from walking back over previously grazed pastures and biting off a blade of grass that isn't ready for them yet. Electric fence is what we use to keep the cows where we want them. We use single wire fences to divide our pastures into narrow strips, then use poratable electric fence to move the herd back and forth along the strips.
Some people wonder: what do grass fed cows eat in the winter if there is no grass growing? Once the grass is done growing, we graze off the grass that we have stockpiled through the fall. Eventually we will either run out of grass or it will get covered with snow. When that happens the cows get bales of hay, which is just dry grass and other forage rolled up into a bale. We feed a variety of hay, but usually a mix of grass, clover, and alfalfa. There is also a strategy to feeding hay, because wherever we feed, the cows will drop a lot of fertilizer. We move our feeding location around the farm to distribute the manure more evenly and save us a lot of fuel when we don't have to mechanically spread it all. We also at times will unroll the bales across a pasture, which spreads out the manure even more, and also spreads out all of the nutrients and seeds that are in the hay. This is yet another regenerative approach that we are taking to improve our farm.