A fifth-generation farmer, Jeff Preder was born into dairy farming. And from the day he purchased his family farm from his parents in January 1977 up until September 1997, dairy farming was all Preder knew. That is until the owner of Jeff-Leen Farm in Random Lake, Wis., ventured off the beaten path into raising beef cattle.
Preder started with Holsteins, but little did he know what he truly was getting into. He quickly discovered that raising Holsteins without the use of growth hormones was not economically feasible. It was at that same time in 1997 that a friend from Missouri turned him on to Piedmontese cattle. The friend preached about the low-fat, low-cholesterol nutritional characteristics in the beef animal, and because Preder was gravitating towards a healthy lifestyle, he thought it was just a natural fit to start raising the breed.
He started with seven Piedmontese cattle and finished one out for his family.
“When we got the first Piedmontese cattle and we butchered it, my wife Kathleen said never a Holstein again,” Preder says. “There was such a difference in the quality of meat going from the Holstein to the Piedmontese.”
They quickly swore off raising Holsteins, phased out the remaining few they had, and turned their attention solely on Piedmontese cattle.
The name Jeff-Leen Farm, a mashup of Jeff and Kathleen’s first names, ironically works well because of the lean Piedmontese beef it sells.
Piedmontese, a breed of cattle that originates from the region of Piedmont, in northwest Italy, and brought to North America in 1979, is naturally lower in fat and cholesterol because it is a double-muscled animal. This means that the cattle have more cell mass per muscle and less fat, says Preder.
The genetic characteristics of Piedmontese cattle have been studied by scientists, and nutritionists have documented their health and nutritional benefits. They’ve found that a 50 percent or greater Piedmontese cross is a perfect source of high quality protein, the beef has eight essential amino acids, is an excellent source of B vitamins such as niacin and riboflavin, and a great source of zinc. Nutritionists also say that the beef has less fat, cholesterol and fewer calories than skinless chicken.
Jeff-Leen’s cattle are raised under strictly controlled growing conditions, with a heavy emphasis on a healthy environment. The cattle, which have been 100-percent grass-fed since 2005 are ensured a healthy diet of quality forages as they are moved to a new pasture every two to three days to ensure they have fresh grass and alfalfa.
“To me it’s important that we only let them on an area for a short period of time so that they don’t destroy the habitat,” says Preder.
Preder has the cattle on a rotational grazing pattern that divides the farm’s nearly 300 acres of rolling hills into 14 different paddocks. Even though implementing this system delays the time to finish an animal, he is fine with that.
“Going grass-fed it takes a little bit longer to finish the animal out,” says Preder. “We figure somewhere between 24 to 30 months and we feed them on strictly grass, alfafa, and our own hay because it has higher nutritional value.”
Preder says he takes great pride in raising cattle that are absolutely free of growth hormones, steroids, antibiotics and animal by-products. He also relies on an old-world approach of keeping the animals out on pasture all-year long.
“They never go inside the building,” says Preder. “We have trees around that block the prevailing winds during the winter and if it’s in the wide open space, we’ll set extra bails of hay out for them to trash the bail, and then they’ll either lay against it for a wind break, or lay on it. We’ve never lost an animal due to a weather issue.”
Jeff-Leen’s cattle meets all USDA inspection standards, as well as the rigid specifications and regulations in the Certified Piedmontese Beef Program, a program that is approved and audited by the USDA. The farm also holds certification from the Piedmontese Association of the United States.
The farm raises 25 Piedmontese cattle that it finishes yearly. Preder says he’s looking to grow that number to 40 by adding 10 more cows to the herd, in large part due to demand.
The beef is processed at Kewaskum Frozen Foods in Kewaskum. Although it is 100 percent raised organic, Jeff-Leen can’t label it organic because it is not processed at a certified organic facility. Preder’s hope is that as other farmers like himself begin encouraging the processor to gain certification that the organic label can someday make it on his beef products.
“Right now, everything is raised here organically, but we can’t label it as such because it’s not full circle,” says Preder.
In 2002, the otherwise strictly beef operation of Jeff-Leen opened up to include chickens and eggs.
Just as the cattle are free-range on pasture, so too are the laying hens. All day long the flock of nearly 200 Production Red hens are allowed free range of the farm where they are foraging on grass, legumes and insects.
As a result, Preder says under normal circumstances the hens will produce anywhere from 150 to 160 dozen brown eggs a week with rich, orange yolks. However, this summer’s dry spell and extreme heat wreaked havoc on the flock’s production.
“The heat really took a toll on them and the production just went downhill,” says Preder.
Besides foraging on greenery and insects all day, Preder feeds the hens a whole grain organic diet. This includes corn raised on the farm that gets ground up, coursely-ground oats, soybeans, soybean meal, root-seed meal, and diatomaceous earth.
“Because of the customer base that we have, we want to have as healthy a diet for the chickens so therefore our customers are eating as healthy products we know we can provide them,” says Preder.
This spring, Preder built a mobile wagon for the hens to nest and lay their eggs. Inside it’s equipped with dozens of nest boxes, feeders, water and areas where hens can perch. He also mounted a water tank on the front that stores enough drinking water for the hens for four days. The wagon gets pulled by tractor or four-wheeler to a new area of pasture for the hens daily. Kathleen does the egg gathering twice a day. She also washes the eggs and packs them.
“In the morning it’s really a sight to behold,’ says Preder. “I come out here at 5 a.m. and open the door and some of them are flying out, some of them are jumping down the steps and then they take off everywhere. It’s really neat to see. And then at night it’s like a parade of chickens, they all go back in.”
Because the hens are free range, there is the risk of losing some of the flock to predators. So far, Preder says that hasn’t been a problem due to the fact that he places roosters in with the hens. He says their loud crows help deter intruders.
Pastured Chickens and Turkeys
Besides raising laying hens, Jeff-Leen also has a flock of approximately 700 Cornish Rock chickens at a time that are sold for meat. These chickens are raised as chicks (purchased from Sunnyside Hatchery in Beaver Dam, Wis.) in the barn and are moved onto pasture at an early age where they rotationally graze in movable pens.
“What I believe is if we can get them out on the pasture early, that I think is a big plus,” says Preder. “We don’t want them in the barn any longer than we have to – just to get them feathered enough that they’ve got enough feathers to keep themselves warm.”
Each pen is spacious enough to hold 100 chickens where they can perch, nibble on insects, grass, legumes, and snack on organic feed. Each day the chicken pens are moved onto a new patch of pasture to ensure the chickens are getting appropriate nutrients.
This year the farm expanded its chicken production from 1,700 to 2,700 to fulfill a 600-chicken order placed by Bruce Evans with Milwaukee Area Technical College’s Culinary School, and also to meet demand by restaurants and customers.
In 2011, a demand centered around Thanksgiving dinner brought Preder into the new realm of raising turkeys on the farm. As a result, he purchased 25 baby white broad-breasted turkeys from Sunnyside Hatchery.
Because it went over well, Preder decided to double his production in 2012. Just like the chickens, the turkeys are raised from chicks inside the barn for a few weeks until they’ve built up enough strength to go outdoors. They are then moved onto pasture into three large movable pens that hold 17 birds. These pens get moved daily. Preder says the turkeys are processed a week before Thanksgiving.
“Some people say I should raise heritage breed turkeys, but I talked with Chef Jack Kaestner and he said ‘Jeff, they’re really tough to raise, so maybe just getting into it you might want to do the white broad-breasted, which are a little bit easier.’ We opted to follow that advice.”
Jeff-Leen gets both its chickens and turkeys processed at Quality Cut Meats in Cascade, Wis.
It’s hard not to miss the large white wind turbine smack dab in the middle of the farm. The wind generator is a partnership between Jeff-Leen and its neighbor. Preder says his neighbor has the investment in the turbine, but the farm partnered with him and gets a reduced rate on electricity.
“We pay for it yet, we don’t get free electricity, we get a reduced rate,” says Preder. “And when we put it in, there were certain upgrades that needed to be done on the farm and that he paid for upfront. Plus, it looks nice and fits nice with our customer base.”
Preder says he believes wind energy is a good way to go, but they can’t go 100 percent because it’s still unreliable.
“Some days it’s dead calm, but as an alternative source that helps supplement the energy source that’s out there, why not,” he says. “Take advantage of a natural resource and generate as much as we can to help offset some of the petroleum usages.”
Sixth Generation and Beyond?
When Jeff and Kathleen, who have four children and five grandchildren decide to hang up their boots, their hope is that the next generation will take over. Right now it looks like their son Michael, who is in his 30s and is currently in charge of the farm’s planting and harvesting will step in and take over as the family’s sixth generation.
Making the transition easier and putting the best interest of the farm first, Preder has had a full-time job away from the farm at a steel mill in Saukville since 1997.
“My heart is really in the farm, but the health insurance, the 401(k) with matching funds for retirement, those are the things you look at because I want to hand this down to the next generation. My son would really love to step in but I know that at today’s land prices he couldn’t buy us out,” Preder says. “So you out of the goodness of your heart, hand it over to him. You can’t be greedy when it’s a family operation.”
Where To Buy
Jeff-Leen sells eggs, chicken and beef products at several Wisconsin farmers’ markets. They are at the Fox Point, downtown West Bend and Sheboygan Farmers’ Markets on Saturdays, and in the winter at the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers’ Market and Sheboygan Winter Farmers’ Market.
“We’ll have people come to the farm and pick up numerous cuts of meat from us. We have individual steaks, roasts and we encourage people to come to farm and buy it because it’s cheaper for them. Anytime we go to the farmers market, its going to cost more because we have to pay the market fees, we have transportation, we have coolers and freezers, and those are the things we have to add cost to and it has to be paid for.”
The farm accepts phone-in orders, can take cash and check payments, as well as debit, credit cards, and also accepts EBT/food stamps at its farm and at markets.
Besides selling to the public, Jeff-Leen also works directly with many local chefs and restaurants. Jeff-Leen is part of Chef David Swanson’s Braise RSA that supplies many Wisconsin restaurants, and supplies the Oconomowoc Lake Club, La Reve in Milwaukee, as well as La Merenda, to name a few.
Customer Appreciation Day
Sept. 16, 2012, is Jeff-Leen’s 9th Customer Appreciation Day. The farm will have live music, food, refreshments, local cheeses, hay rides, and much more.
This is an opportunity to get up-close and personal with the Preder family farm and see the operation first-hand.
“We’re not trying to hide anything from customers. That I think is so important to people. We’ll show exactly what we got going on,” says Preder. “It may not be the most modern facility, but we enjoy what we’re doing and we’re trying to provide customers with as much of a wholesome product as we can.”
Jeff and Kathleen Preder
N254 Highway I
Random Lake, WI 53075
Phone: (920) 994-9502