Willow Farm LLC is an 80 acre grass based farm in southwest Michigan. We are currently grazing Hereford and Devon cattle, Romney and Bluefaced Leicester sheep. Every year we hope to add to our farm’s diversity, soil health, and available products.
Tom and Candy fell into farming one animal at a time. It started with Candy’s horse and “wouldn’t it be nice to have it at home”? That comment led to 15 acres and a barn followed by “well as long as we have the fence why not raise a steer”? The problem with a steer is that they lead to brood cows and calving; followed by a pig or two. Fifteen acres is not enough to make a living farming unless you do vegetables and we much preferred calves to cabbages. Since plowing things and growing crops wasn’t feasible we turned to grass instead. Michigan State University was starting to offer conferences and classes on rotational grazing and we went every chance we got. Subscribed to Stockman Grass Farmer and later on, Graze. Read books. More books. Lots more books.
Grazing worked for us for many different reasons. We had zero invested in big farm equipment. We also had zero invested in spraying chemicals on our land. The animals were cleaner and healthier out on grass than standing by the barn eating expensive grain. And grazing means everything comes full circle. Land that grows not much more than goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace will bloom with clovers, grasses and alfalfa if grazed and rested at the right time. Rotational grazing works with nature to improve the land.
So it was a horse or two, some cows and their calves, chickens, the odd pig and the dogs and cats until Kyle came along. Driving to the library, for more books, we’d pass a farm with a few sheep. Kyle was 4 and kept insisting we needed sheep. I’d never had any sheep, knew nothing about their care and feeding and kept insisting right back we did not. Finally to end the discussion once and for all I came up with what I thought was a brilliant bit of parenting. I told her if she could save enough money to buy two sheep we’d get sheep. I thought that long before a 4 year old could save several hundred dollars she’d lose interest and move on. Nope, took her until she was 5 to buy her first 2 grade Romney ewes. The next year she bought her first registered ewe and was showing at the county fair against the adults because she was too young to join 4-H.
Kyle continued her interest in farming, graduated from the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester England with a Bachelor of Science Honours in Agriculture with an emphasis in Livestock , and has now enrolled at Colorado State University for an online masters program in Integrated Resource Management.
Candy is taking an online class offered by Cornell University on climate change and making your farm more resilient. We will be implementing new projects to help our farm to shrug off some of the weather variables farmers contend with.
Our plans for 2017 include adding pigs and goats to clear invasive species from fence rows and add to our diversity. Raising pastured poultry and an open house for shearing day, along with classes in sheep care and fence building.
Future plans start with having an on farm store offering grass fed beef, lamb, chicken and turkey along with pastured pork. Our wool products: fleeces, quilt bats, duvets, pillows and occasionally special knitted items. Adding additional classes in animal care. And perhaps a bee hive or two.