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During a second career, a 'learning curve' has launched Steve Deibele and his wife Marie to a successful business of raising and direct marketing beef cattle and hogs in southwestern Manitowoc County during the past 14 years.

With some innovative practices, especially with the hogs, that are based on having the animals graze for about six months per year on a portion of the rolling terrain on the 200-acre farm, the Deibeles have been marketing about 25 Angus, Hereford and mixed breed or 'Black Baldie' steers and 300 Berkshire hogs per year.

The details of that experience were shared by Steve Deibele during a pasture walk for members of basin grazing networks that was coordinated by the Glacierland Resource Conservation and Development Council. His first career was as an electrical engineer in California, from where he returned to his native area in 2001 to start Golden Bear Farm, which is named in honor of Marie, who is a California native.

Favorable factors for hogs

Although he has identified several elements of synergy in raising the two livestock species, Deibele listed several favorable factors for raising hogs. They include the turnover pace of each market group — an average of six months but with a range of four to eight months depending on weather and other variables — compared to the much longer period for getting steers to marketing weight with a diet of pasture and grass without the feeding of any corn or soy products.

When the Deibeles started the hog portion of their new business in 2008, they had seven sows and one boar. Because of a health problem with the boar, the intended conception rate fell to about 50 percent with the sows.

That problem was solved with the purchase of groups of 50 piglets from a Berkshire breeder near Platteville. They have less height and larger hams than the genetics of those the Deibeles originally had. Before being introduced to the outdoors and fencing, they are started in pens in a former dairy barn along Lax Chapel Road.

'Rock star' pigs

One of Deibele's innovations is the inclusion of two or three so-called larger 'rock star' pigs with the groups of young piglets as a way to quell the competitive incidents that are typical among animals of the same size. The 'rock stars' are selected from an older group animals on the basis of their mellow and easygoing disposition, he explained.

Deibele finds that the piglets follow and fawn over the larger pigs, thereby creating very good harmony in the group. The 'rock stars,' which are given names, also act as teachers of the younger pigs.

This practice is based on the social nature of hogs which leads them to act as a group, Deibele indicated. They find it natural to be members of a group of differing ages.

The group social nature of the hogs is also addressed with the feeding practices by making sure that, with the help of troughs in addition to round feeders, there is enough eating space for each hog in the several groups as they advance to a desired marketing weight of 280 to 310 pounds before being taken to Beck's Meats in Oshkosh for slaughter and processing.

Varied vegetation diet

In growing to market weight, the hogs dine on a great variety of vegetation. The pastures that feature of combination of clover, grasses, and some alfalfa are suitable at a less mature growth stage than what's appropriate for the cattle which need to have more fiber in the forage, Deibele pointed out.

Throughout portions of the year, the hogs are treated to about 50,000 pounds of waste apples along with the squash, pumpkins, and zucchini that the Deibeles are able to procure. Either for grazing or harvest as baleage, 'a garden' of oats, turnips, peas, rapeseed and kale is grown for the hogs.

A feeding innovation at Golden Bear Farm in the past three years is a dry ground mixture of about 60 percent barley and 40 percent field peas that are grown by an area farmer. This serves to improve the Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio of the fatty acids while the barley provides better flavor to the pork, Deibele said.

Housing and grazing practices

While the cattle are given access to grazing to all or most of the fenced grazing acres on the farm at some time during the year, the hogs are restricted to certain rotated spots that include a movable hut and feeding equipment.

With the frequent moves, the hogs are far less likely to dig into and root the soil, Deibele explained. He learned that lesson a number of years ago when the hogs extensively rooted one of the hilltop spots on the farm, thereby leading to erosion.

Inclusion of the field peas, which have about 25 percent protein, has raised the overall protein content of the hog ration from the previous 13 to 14 percent, Deibele noted. With pasture accounting for about 40 to 50 percent of the feed intake during the grazing season, it's also appropriate to have significant portions of clover and some alfalfa in the mix in order to supply protein, he added.

For the group of hogs that will be heading to market for the next four-week slaughter interval, the latest innovation at Golden Bear Farm is a new watering method. What Deibele describes as 'a big deal' because it greatly reduces the messiness in a confined area around one of the huts was the installation of water nipples to replace the troughs.

Synergy of species

With the combination of livestock species, Deibele perceives a synergy in the use and conservation of resources on the farm, especially in improving soil fertility. He noted that the land on the farm is certified for organic production but the animals are not.

Renovation of the paddocks is part of the management plan, Deibele observed. Grasses that become too mature for grazing are harvested as bedding for the pigs. Woodlots at the edge of the paddocks also provide comfort and cover for the animals.

In addition to what's grown and harvested on the farm, some hay for the cattle is purchased from nearby farmers. The beef herd includes 21 bred cows but Deibele is considering culling a few of them and replacing them with six to eight heifers. Some stocker cattle are also grazed during part of the year.

Marketing outlets

Deibele emphasizes that no processed feeds, genetically modified organisms, or hormones are provided to the animals on the farm. With meat cuts specified by the customer, many of Golden Bear Farm's steers are sold as quarters, halves or whole carcasses while the hogs are available as halves or wholes.

The meats are also available at a number of fine food outlets and through Trust Local Foods, which distributes in Green Bay, Sheboygan, Oshkosh, Appleton, Milwaukee, and Door County and carries the Golden Bear Farm beef and pork in its Appleton store.

As another promotion, Golden Bear Farm hosts an on-farm dinner in conjunction with a Milwaukee restaurant. Those who are interested can learn more about Golden Bear Farm by calling (920) 333-0005, by email to goldenbearfarm@gmail.com or at www.goldenbearfarm.com.

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