When his alarm clock sounds at 4:30 a.m., Mac Riemenschneider can’t afford to hit the snooze button. That’s because he knows he’s got a whole lot of work ahead of him pulling double-duty as a full-time farmer and a full-time construction estimator.
Hours before clocking in at his daytime job in Waukesha, Wis., Riemenschneider starts his day by tending to the livestock on his 100-acre farm, R-Farm, in Dousman.
A husband and father of three young children, fulfilling his role as farmer and estimator takes a lot of balance and dedication. Once morning farm chores are completed, Mac heads to the office. At 3:30 p.m., it’s back to the farm to do field work until the sun goes down.
Since his freshman year in high school (1991), Mac has been raising livestock. What started out as simply raising two steers with a friend, has evolved into Mac owning his own diversified livestock farm that produces naturally-raised steer, chickens and pigs without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. His passion for farming and connecting the community to local food resources, whether it be from R-Farm or a fellow farmer, prompted the formation of the Dousman Farmers’ Market where he served as the market’s organizer and first manager.
R-Farm is well known for its steer. Mac currently raises anywhere from 30 to 40 at one time. Currently, his herd of choice is Jersey Steer. He starts them as calves and finishes them all the way through, which typically is just over two years.
“Jerseys are not as big an animal,” says Mac. “It works out for a family that buys a half [of a steer]. They aren’t getting a lot of meat as if they would out of an Angus or a Holstein. It’s a little more consumer friendly and they’re a little more reasonable to buy.”
The farm purchases its Jersey Steer calves from a rotational grazing dairy farm in Waukesha. With help from his dad, Bill, the calves get a bottle of milk twice a day until they are two months old. Afterwards they are fed a grain mix and hay. After reaching two months of age, the calves are moved into a separate pasture for the summer. Then, in the fall they get mixed in with the bigger steers.
Some farmers like to keep their calves in a barn. Mac raises calves until they are two months old in calf hutches because he says if there’s a sick cow, it will jeopardize the well being of the calves.
“The idea is you want them separate when they’re young in case one does get sick, then it doesn’t move through all of them,” he says. “And as long as you keep them dry and out of a draft, they’ll do better. You can put them in the barn but if it’s humid in there or if it’s warm and then there’s a draft, they’re more likely to get sick. If you keep them warm and dry and out of a draft, they do a lot better.”
The calf hutches, Mac says, are a proven, healthy, safe method. Most days, calves are taken out of the hutches and let into a larger group of four to five other calves where they can socialize and drink milk with one another.
When the steers are out on pasture they are moved every day.
“Our cattle are all grass-fed on pasture in the warmer months and dry hay in the cooler months when the pasture is not available,” says Mac. “It takes better hay through the winter to feed them. We usually butcher them at about two years old, but because our animals are grass-fed it can sometimes take a little longer to finish them.”
Poultry and Pigs
R-Farm currently raises a variety of 200 Production Red and Barred Rock chickens. A Production Red is a hen that is a cross between a Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red and a Leghorn chicken. The Production Red are a vigorous, hearty chicken that is touted as the best brown egg layer. The hens start laying dark brown eggs between four to six months of age. New to the farm this spring, Mac is raising Barred Rocks that are expected to begin laying eggs for the first time in May. He says Barred Rocks are heavy birds that produce large eggs (about 20 eggs per month) and are also ideal for a soup chicken.
Both of the hen breeds raised on the farm lay brown eggs that contain rich, orange yolks. They are a big hit with customers. In fact, on our visit to the farm, the weekly supply was sold out in less than 30 minutes.
The hens lay about 70 dozen eggs a week and around 300 dozen large and extra large eggs a month. When young hens first start laying, they lay smaller eggs known as pullets. The farm sells a pack of 18 for the same price as a dozen.
While the public can come to the farm to purchase free-range eggs, R-Farm also supplies two local gas stations – Wales Lawn & Garden on Hwy 83 in Wales and The Paperchase Mobil on Hwy 67 in Dousman. The two stations purchase 20 to 40 dozen eggs a week.
The chickens rotationally graze in moveable pens starting in early spring and then get moved into the greenhouse by Thanksgiving. The portable, floorless coops have mesh or wire sides, a roof for shade and some enclosed spaces for nesting. The chickens have access to fresh air, all the grass and insects they can eat, and protection from predators.
“When we put them out on pasture, we’ve had everything from foxes, raccoons, owls, hawks, and coyotes,” Mac says. “We’ve run the gamut on just about every predator.”
Pens are moved around the grassy pasture on a daily basis.
“We’ve got old lawnmower wheels on the back, so we pull them around,” Mac says. “We cover these with a tarp on the top and one side to keep the wind and the rain out. In the summer, the chickens will have it all grazed down, then it will all grow back.”
The farm has adopted a rotational grazing system where steers are moved first through a portion of the pasture to graze and then the chickens follow a few days after. Mac systematically moves the livestock based on the stage of growth of the forages. While one area of the pasture is being grazed, the rest of the pasture rests. This rest and recovery time helps maintain healthy forage plants for the livestock throughout the warm months.
In the winter, the laying hens are housed in a greenhouse that was constructed in 2009. Ground-up corncobs are applied to the ground as bedding for the hens and temperatures remain warm enough where water does not freeze. The sides roll up to allow for fresh air to pass through.
“I stick to the old fashioned way of doing it,” Mac says about raising pigs. “I’m not brave enough to turn them out to pasture yet.”
Mac mixes his own feed for the pigs with the corn he grows on the farm, soybean meal and kelp. In the barn, he deep beds them in straw.
One of the farm’s large sows is expected to give birth to piglets early this spring. He also just finished raising a boar that weighed 740 pounds.
Besides raising livestock, Mac also is busy tending to his farm’s fields. He provides custom feed for his livestock by raising a variety of vegetables without the use of herbicides or chemical pesticides. He does not use genetically-modified seed.
“We raise our own corn for the hogs and chickens and then I grow oats,” says Mac. “We’re going to grow some peas and wheat and barley this year for the pig feed. Something a little different. I like to move to a more organic feed for the hogs and the way you can do that is with the field peas. Then we raise peas and triticale as forage for the calves. That makes really good forage. Then we’ll do some annual grass, Sudan grass and some millet.”
Although Mac follows organic methods whenever possible, he isn’t always able to raise organic crops.
“I use conventional soybean meal, I use some commercial fertilizers because some of the fields I have are real sandy and using organic methods, I’m just losing money,” Mac says. “I’ve taken a few fields that weren’t farmed for a few years and I’ve tried to get a crop out of them with the organic methods, but it just hasn’t been working too well.”
As a result, he uses water-soluble fertilizer to grow crops. At the same time, however, he’s trying to build up the organic matter by growing cover crops. He also has not used any herbicides in five years.
“I do use organic practices but don’t have the certification,” says Mac. “Most of our customers come right here, so if they want to know what I’m doing, I can show them and tell them.”
The farm has been in Mac’s family dating back to the 1950s, when his aunt’s in-laws purchased the farm. Since then it has changed hands a few more times. His parents purchased 20 acres of land in the 1970s and his dad cash-cropped the land. They purchased the house and buildings in 1990, and shortly thereafter, Mac started farming the land and took over the operations and named it R-Farm.
Even though there are hundreds of livestock and nearly 100 acres of land to tend to, a three-person operation is typically what it takes to run R-Farm. Mac runs the operational side of the farm with help from his dad Bill, who has a house on the property. Bill helps with daily chores in the morning and at night and will run errands while Mac is away at work. Mac’s wife Nicole does the bookkeeping, updates the website and responds to emails. She does the meat ordering, keeps track of orders and calls in orders to the butcher. Nicole also has the important job of cleaning the eggs before they get packaged and sold to the public.
Open For Business
In 2005, R-Farm obtained its retail license in order to offer a variety of cuts of meat. Prior to that they sold meat by quarters or halves. The retail store, located on the farm, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings.
“It’s just come and pick up what you need,” says Mac. “Just come and get whatever you want out of the freezers.”
When we visited the farm it was on a Saturday and several customers were coming in to pick up their Easter hams and other meat. Mac says it’s not unusual to get customers coming in from Dousman, Wales, Delafield, Oconomowoc, Waukesha, Brookfield, East Troy, Lake Geneva, and as far as Northern Illinois.
Besides eggs, the farm offers grass-fed beef, custom cut roasts and steaks, ground beef, whole chickens, pork, ham, and different sausage products, to name a few. R-Farm has been using Detjens Northern Trails Meat in Watertown for its butchering since 1991.
“We get soup bones, oxtails, tongue, liver and heart,” says Mac. “Oxtail I can’t get enough of. There’s only one oxtail per steer, so that’s part of the issue, but people really like it. Last year I don’t know why, but oxtail was going like crazy. I talked to our butcher and they were having people drive out from Milwaukee, buying all of the oxtail they had.”
The public is encouraged to call ahead of time or check the farm’s website to see what offerings they have prior to stopping by as some products sell out faster than others.