Tammera Dykema describes herself as “the clean farmer” because she is in charge of marketing on her family’s farm at Allenton. Her husband, Brandon, is the “dirty farmer” who does the hands-on work of managing their livestock and caring for the pastures.
Photo By Gloria Hafemeister
Allenton couple direct markets meat to customers
Dominion Valley farm is a small, family-run natural farm located in the hills of Washington County.
The pastures include Cornish cross and bronze ranger chickens, broad-breasted white turkeys, heritage Tamworth and Large Black pigs and Galloway beef cattle.
During a recent pasture walk, hosted by Town and Country Resource, Conservation and Development (RC & D) Tammera and Brandon Dykema described how they raise their animals on grass and how they have successfully marketed the meat directly to customers around southeastern Wisconsin since they started in business in 1997.
Brandon describes, "All of our animals are raised strictly on pasture, where they eat what they love - grass, clover, other rich greens, and bugs. Our animals do not receive growth hormones or antibiotics, but they do get natural sunlight, clean bedding and fresh air every day. This optimal living environment not only makes for the healthiest animals but the best tasting, most flavorful meats."
The family is often asked about the name of their farm.
They explain that Dominion came from two very important places:
• First, Brandon's father owned a small farm in the 1970s called Dominion Farm. Also, in the Bible, Genesis 1:26 says "...let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
• Secondly, the farm is located at the bottom of a hill, so a valley would be a good way to describe our location. The homestead and original barn were built approximately 1900.
The couple started in business in 1997 preparing the fields on their new farm for raising pastured poultry. They began slowly with 100 chickens but the popularity of this meat led them to gradually increase the numbers and also adding turkeys to the mix.
The family tried raising Muscovy ducks and heritage turkeys but found it was not a profitable venture. Part of the problem was preditors and they also found it took a great deal of labor and time to produce this meat.
She notes, "If any of you have an interest in raising ducks or heritage turkeys, though, there is a market out there for them."
Tammera describes, "Our chicks and poults are received at one-day of age, free of vaccinations and antibiotics. We keep them in a warmed brooder with natural sunlight, fresh bedding and food for the first three weeks. Once they are fully feathered they are ready to go out on pasture."
She explains that they are different than "free range" because they are in a bottomless pen that is moved daily. This allows them to nibble at the fresh grasses and bugs while being protected from predators and sun or rain.
They placed an opening on the back side of the pen to allow wind to blow through, keeping the birds cooler in the summer heat.
Turkeys are raised the same way but at eight-weeks of age the turkeys are allowed to roam in an open area fenced in around their shelters. She says, "This bigger area allows them to have more access to pasture and not be crowded in their pasture pens."
The average weight of the processed chickens is four-five pounds and turkeys are processed at 15-22 pounds. There are regularly scheduled processing dates throughout the season, June through October for chickens.
In the early years they processed their own meat but as their business grew they eventually turned to the services of Quality Meats at Cascade.
BEEF AND PORK
ADDED TO MIX
In 2001 they added Galloway cattle to the mix in order to provide more natural, grass-fed meat to their customers. These animals provide lean meat with less fat due to their double layer of fur.
Brandon explains that because of the heavy coat he needs to monitor them closely to see how they are gaining and when they are ready for finishing. He says the coat of fur can be deceiving.
They also started raising pork in 2001 and by 2004 the popularity of their pork led to their new venture of pasture-raising Tamworth hogs and beginning their own farrowing.
This venture plus the growing herd of cattle made it possible for Brandon to make farming a full-time venture.
They buy supplemental grain from a neighbor and Brandon grinds and mixes his own custom feed fresh for the pigs and cattle, providing vitamins and minerals as needed.
The pigs are outdoors all year around with calf huts providing shelter in the rotated pastures. The gilts communally care for their litters and if one mom struggles because of a bigger than usual litter, another with fewer babies will help. For that reason, they keep all the new Moms and babies together.
Castrating takes place when the babies are weaned because the protective mothers won't allow anyone near their babies.
Tammera says, "It's a lot more work raising pigs this way but when people try our meat they say they can notice the better taste and they are willing to pay more for the meat. That justifies the extra work."
In 2006 they added an on-farm store they have named "The Pickup Joint." Tammera quips, "It's a good place for people to pick up a chick."
The addition of the store made it possible to sell individual cuts of meat along with 25-pound boxes of beef.
Tammera is in charge of the marketing on the farm. They are listed in Farm Fresh directories and slow food outlets in their area.
She said most sales have come through "word-of-mouth." Sales have also grown through their website but she says it is important to update it regularly.
Farmers markets make up half of the total meat sales. On-farm sales and orders for meat make up about 30 percent of the sales and about 20 percent is to restaurants and retail outlets.
She says, "The State Fair Park winter farmers market is wonderful. It is free and has lots of variety of products and many customers."