This is Nelson Grass Farm. (Originally posted on our social media.)
I haven’t done a formal introduction of who is involved with our farm, so I am going to take the time to do that now. Throughout this week I will post more about us. It’s a family farm, and this is my family.
I am Desiree, lead animal lover. And tender to this social media account. It was my motivation to work with animals that lead us to farming. But more about me in a future post.
Ryan, lead builder and laborer, is my husband and partner in this business. Yes, we consider our farm a business. It is not a hobby, or something we do in our spare time or a charity to consumers (none of our customers think any of these! But I think farmers can be taken advantage of in our society). Ryan’s entrepreneurial spirit helped get us to this farm. And more about him in a future post.
Our children, Olivia and Cooper, are part of the farm by proxy. Whether they like it or not! They like it, sometimes, and sometimes not. Either way, they do share our passion of farming and express it differently. They are the reason we choose this hard lifestyle. Also, more about each of them in a future post.
This is our farm. More specifically, walking in our South field of about 15 acres where our flock of about 500 laying hens are rotated during MN growing season. In the background is our winter laying hen housing, because it gets cold here in MN. The ground we walk on, the soil, is where our farm starts. From day 1, our passions were aligned and we do right by the soil, the animal and the people that are involved in our small food web. Nature is where it is at, and we try to mimic it to the best of our human ability.
Hello! I’m Desiree and I am continuing our farm train, so let’s take a ride! (post #2)
I’m just going to overwhelm you right of the bat, with my job title. . . Owner. Animal Health Specialist. Farm Laborer (this is so broad of a term). Delivery Driver. Distribution Manager. Shipping and Receiving Clerk. Inventory Clerk. Accounts Payable/Receivable. Record Keeper. Bookkeeper. Receptionist. Web Designer. Content Manager. Marketing & Advertising Manager. Salesman. Biologist. Ecologist. I think I remembered all of them. Farmers are required to be a Jack-of-all-trades. Farmers are Craftsman.
Now more of the fun part, really there is a fun part!
As long as I can remember, I wanted to work with animals. I went through the list when it was time to decide in High School, for me, what I am going to go to college for. I narrowed the list down to Zookeeper, because I liked big cats and I could include my love of psychology in my education because zoos commonly use operant conditioning.
Well I graduated, and no zoos wanted to hire me because I didn’t have any zoo experience. So I scoured the Star Tribune classified ads, I’m that old, and found an Animal Care Technician job at the University of MN. It was working with goats. They are kind of a exotic animal. There I was able to learn veterinary care and expand into the farm world.
I moved on from working at the University to manage a sheep farm with Ryan. We did this until Olivia was almost 5 years old. It is where we started to learn all about farming and the sustainable farm path we became passionate about. And we really liked working with sheep, and there were a couple goats too.
So we starting looking for our own farm, because that was the lifestyle we wanted for our family. The sheep farm was for sale and only a temporary job for us. We picked a couple counties in MN to look for farm land that was inexpensive for us first generation farmers and close enough to extended family. We just needed some open land to start with.
A big selling point of this farm was the old farm house. Seen in the second picture, that is what it looked like when we first moved. We loved the gambrel roof. We were going to fix it up and move in! We are suckers for old houses and their character. It took us 7 years to fix it up and a lot of help.
We choose pastured poultry because it was low input and a fast turn around to make your profit. We planned to expand into many different species to make our farm a one-stop shop. Until we had to do all that work of moving temporary fencing around to rotationally graze the goats we also had. We have since backed down to the 3 species we currently have until we have more time to farm and more permanent fencing and infrastructure on the farm.
Our goal is to support our family from this farm. We aren’t there yet, because we keep using all our profits to grow the farm and install infrastructure to increase efficiency. But we are enjoying the ride, even through the turbulent times. It is hard to teach your children these days what our grandparents came to know as a way of life. To build character. The farm provides valuable life lessons, even for us adults. And I came to realize it didn’t matter what animals I was in charge of caring for to be happy, and I have learned so much from the experiences I have had along the way.
We are back, this time it’s all about Ryan! Hop on our farm train ride! (post #3).
Ryan has always been an independent thinker, and it took 2 years of college until he decided he should take the entrepreneur business education route, instead of the mechanical engineer one. He was wise then to know he should be his own boss, and no one would do the job better then he could. But there were many jobs before we started farming on our own where he could be the boss. And I think only his wife has the commitment to work along side him.
Well, I better list out Ryan’s job title . . .
Owner. Head Farm Foreman. Master Builder. Pasture Manager. Forage Technician. Soil Technician. Diesel Mechanic. Regular Mechanic. Repairman. Electrician. Accountant. Business Law Counsel. Payroll Specialist. HR Department. Livestock Transporter. Materials Control Handler. Distribution Manager. Also holds 2 part-time off farm jobs and fills in as needed for 2 CDL truck driving jobs. He is one busy person, but I have never known him to be any less busy.
Ryan never thought he couldn’t do something. He is always up for the challenge. Even when his wife suggested a Farm Caretaker job on a sheep farm for him. I was still working at the University when this job became available. It was a lot of repairs and maintenance, and caring for a flock of 200 sheep. He thought, “how hard could it be?”
His first lambing season will be one he never forgets. After I was done with work, I would go and help him. It wasn’t a 9-5 kind of job. But that didn’t turn him away, it was a challenge. I think this is where Ryan found that he liked challenges and different ones. No day was the same. It was a constant puzzle to piece together and it kept his mind busy.
After one year of his Farm Caretaker job, an opening for me became available. I vividly remember when we were first married, Ryan said “I could never work with you.” Well, we were about to find out if that was true! I was pregnant with Olivia and I left the University job.
The next five years are history. It cemented that we could work together and found each other to be one of the best coworkers we’ve ever had. We learned a lot of valuable information on that farm and also outside of it at farming conferences. We shaped our values there, and those became more important to us as we became parents.
When we bought our own farm, some people told us it was a bad idea. I’m sure many more thought it. For Ryan, that was all the more reason to do it. Don’t tell Ryan to not do something unless you are using reverse psychology.
Ryan can build things and is not afraid of hard work. He may not be the best carpenter, but he will build just about anything he sets his mind to. That comes in handy when you are trying to start a farm with little money. And most of the money we had saved up ended up in the old farm house we were fixing up when we moved here. We are on our third or fourth rendition of our mobile egg coop, he has built three different types of nest boxes, we have all sorts of different water trailers for the animals, three different chicken shelters for pasture and a goat mineral feeder on wheels. And many more.
When the farm gets bigger and more self-sustaining, Ryan would like to be less reliant on off-farm jobs to support our family. And each year we get closer to this goal. We aren’t expecting to become rich from farming, no farmer ever does. It will be nice to pay ourselves a Craftsman’s wage.
Now it is the children’s turn! First we start with our eldest daughter, Olivia. Let’s go for a ride on the farm train! (post #4).
Olivia is in 7th grade, and currently homeschooling because the state of MN has shut down schools. She is very social and always has been, so this is hard for her to not see her friends and be with her peers. Homeschooling looks good on her though, she is very independent and takes the initiative to get her schoolwork done. She does better when she is not being told what to do.
Olivia is currently interested in animals, mainly cats and rabbits with a sprinkle of dogs. She thinks the chickens are annoying. I guess too bad her parents have a couple chickens. She likes archery and has participated in 4-H shooting sports for the past 2 summers. We are hoping there will be 4-H activities this summer, so far they are cancelled through the end of June.
Last summer Olivia showed rabbits at our county fair for the first time. We were ready to give up our failed pasture rabbit enterprise and turn it into a 4-H project for Olivia. 4-H has been a great way for her to express a wide variety of interests and work on her leadership skills.
Recently, I have sent Olivia out to take pictures and videos of the farm animals for use on social media. It helps me out with content and also lets her get more practice with photography. I do get a large proportion of pictures of cats, but at least they are cute but we don’t sell pasture raised cat meat.
Olivia’s least favorite thing to do on the farm is to be asked to help collect eggs. When she was younger, the chickens did not scare her or phase her one bit. Now, dirty eggs and assuming all hens in the nest box will peck your hand to the bloody bone are reasons she shouldn’t have to help. I do give her the benefit of the doubt, collecting 500 eggs in a day is different then 20 eggs.
One thing is certain, we don’t expect our children to do our work. Nurses don’t bring their kids to the clinic and tell them to collect vitals, computer scientists don’t have their kids do code for them, but sometimes we do ask for help and allows us more time with the kids. Olivia wants to be a veterinarian someday. Not a poultry veterinarian, so we try to find as many mammals for her to practice her care on. Someday we will have sheep and goats back, and some cattle on the farm.
It’s the last about us post on this farm train ride. Today I’ll tell you more about our youngest son, Cooper. (post #5)
Cooper is in 1st grade, also homeschooling at home right now because the MN schools are closed. Homeschooling a first grader is hard, because reading is hard. Fortunately he doesn’t have much work to complete each day, but I assume that teaching him is much like teaching his father at this age. Before now, Cooper thought online school would be fun and he would never need to leave the farm. He has since realized that he loves going to school and mom and dad are terrible teachers.
Cooper is also an animal lover. I’m pretty sure both of our children’s first words spoken were kitty. I may have rubbed off on them a bit. So far, he loves the chickens. He also loves tractors, and planting and harvesting crops. All of which we don’t do on this farm. Fortunately for him, we have a neighbor that does and has graciously shared their farm experience with Cooper. He has been able to do what all little boys want to do, ride around in a tractor.
This year, Cooper plans to raise his own batch of broiler chickens and show some at the county fair in 4-H. Hopefully, anyway. It will be interesting to see how this goes. We could be nurturing him to be a chicken farmer, or turning him off of chickens. Currently, he plans to never leave the farm. He is going to build his house on the other side of the property, if he can’t have our house. He also is going to buy another farm where he can plant corn and wheat. When he brought up that he would do that here on this farm, we asked where were we going to pasture our animals then? So he problem solved that one.
He is also a first grader, and many jobs at this age are romanticized. We do not expect him to stay and work on our farm, although we would welcome it. For all the years of hard work we put into our farm, it would be Cooper’s generation that will see the benefits of a solidly built business. If he does decide this is for him, we will encourage him to seek education outside of the farm. New experiences are the only way we can nurture growth and expand our minds.
One thing Cooper is not afraid of is work. He sees a lot of worth in working. He isn’t a fan of hard work yet, but every chance he gets, he wants to help his dad. Helping mom is not as desirable. And when I drive the skid loader, he isn’t entirely sure that that is dad approved because I’m not as smooth of a driver. It is interesting how the division of labor that naturally occurs in a family because of our strengths and weaknesses, really defines the young mind. But don’t worry, there is a lot of mind defining yet to come!
Cooper really does love being around the animals, and playing among them. He enjoys the chickens. He likes playing in the pig pastures. When the pigs start to get bigger and if they have rough playing tendencies, I have to tell Cooper he can’t be in with the pigs by himself for safety reasons. He doesn’t really like that.
As Cooper’s interests grow, I’m sure that will shape the way our farm changes. That is one nice thing about a farm, is trying out many different things. Raising different animals, plants, or trying out new regenerative farming techniques. And this our kids will appreciate.
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