Palmyra – Three generations of Brattset women are caring for the land on a 290-acre diversified farm at Palmyra. Today, the farm officially includes Kirsten, Pat, Jessica and Jacob Jurcek and Damon, Trish and Bethany Brattset.
The farm consists of 146 acres of organically managed crop/pasture land plus restored prairies, woodland, wooded wetland, wildlife ponds and wildlife habitat.
Besides direct marketing meat from a herd of 100 percent grass-fed and finished beef cattle they also have pastured hogs, seasonal poultry flocks, seasonally milked dairy cows and a Silvoculture nut and fruit tree planting.
Winonna Brattset and her late husband, Harold, bought the farm in 1968. Before they took ownership, it had been one of many farms owned by an out-of-town investor who had tenants living on the farm and caring for the land.
The couples did extensive remodeling of the buildings and were conventional, diversified farmers for many years. Along the way, Brattset developed a real love for the land that included the second highest hill in Jefferson County where she could enjoy the view of the Kettle Moraine forest on one side and the Palmyra Marsh on the other with numerous farms all around.
Convert to organic
In 2002 when her husband passed away, Winonna continued to farm on her own and started converting the farm to organic, getting certified in 2008.
She was having difficulty locating organic feed and cropping supplies in the area, so her daughter Kirstin and her husband Pat bought Frank’s Mill in Jefferson and began providing organic supplies to farmers and conducting educational workshops.
Eventually they sold the mill and moved back home to help Brattset with managing the farm.
“We began the process of converting the farm to grazing because it was easier to take the kids along to move fences than to figure out what to do with them when I drove tractor,” Kirsten said.
Her daughter, Jessica, is in high school and contributes significantly to helping her mother and grandma with managing the cattle on the farm.
It was a natural for Kirsten since her job away from the farm is as grazing specialist, helping other farmers develop grazing systems.
“The goal on this farm is to never plow again," Kirsten said. "If we do, we are destroying the home of all the critters in the soil who work for us.”
Besides the other livestock, Winona also cares for horses on the farm for the Racers Pacers program.
A local beekeeper benefits from their numerous conservation practices and the prairie they developed 16 years ago by keeping his bee hives on the farm.
Host many tours
During a tour for “Women Caring for the Land Network” and Farmers Union, Brattset explained the conservation highlights on the farm.
“We established a conservation easement that is held by the Drumlin Area Land Trust on the farm and part of the land is in the Ag Enterprise Area,” she said.
Kirsten pointed to the benefits of rotational grazing rather than allow the animals to graze an entire area permanently.
“We do not rotate the horses, but they eat the grass too low and leave only weeds that they don’t like,” she said. “It would be better to graze the horses 15 days and then move them and let the pasture rest.
Their 90 head of mixed breed beef cattle graze on paddocks and are rotated daily by moving the portable fence.
She said rotation is important for maintaining the species of grass and legumes that are desired for the cattle, but just as important, it is beneficial for the animal health.
“When you keep the grass a little higher and don’t graze too low there are fewer problems with parasites," Kirsten said. "Parasites like to live on the lower portion of the grass."
She also pointed out that grass is like a solar collector, and leaving it higher encourages it to grow back more quickly. It also shades the ground so moisture stays in and the grasses last longer.
“The shade is important because the ground soaks up heat from the sun and roots die at 105 degrees,” Kirsten said.
She routinely interseeds every few years, and in the year when she will be interseeding, she allows the cattle to graze a paddock a little lower so the seed makes better soil contact.
Kirsten will clip fields when weeds become a problem, particularly during the lush spring season.
"If the cattle graze evenly, we don’t clip,” she added.
On one far pasture, they drilled a well that has a solar powered pump. Water flows by gravity to the various waterers located in the pasture.
Pastures on their farm are scattered around with patches of prairie and a silvaculture planting of fruit and nut trees in between.
The silvaculture planting was done by someone who leases the land to establish his trees. In one day, he established 11,000 seedlings in the parcel. He maintains them and plants cut-flowers around them each year to sell at the local farmers market. He will benefit from the harvest of the nuts and fruit from the trees.
Under this system, grass is maintained between the trees, and when the trees are big enough, they will provide shade for animals on pasture.
A portion of the land is owned jointly by Kirsten and her brother, and they established a prairie in the land that is in the Conservation Reserve Program.
“It is excellent for pollinators. We have found we now have a lot of meadowlarks and bobolinks,” she said. “We’re beginning to have problems with box elders getting started, so we will need to control them. We also need to schedule a controlled burn to get rid of the buckthorn.”
The family believes they have developed a system that is better for the land than simply leaving the land sit idle. When land is not utilized for grazing, invasives can take over.