Jeff-Leen Farm: A ‘Leen’ Farming Machine

 jeffpreder

 

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.

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.

Jeff-Leen Farm in Random Lake, Wis., has raised Piedmontese cattle since 1997.

Jeff-Leen has raised Piedmontese cattle since 1997. Nutritionists say the beef has less fat, cholesterol and fewer calories than skinless chicken.

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.

cattle“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.

Free-Range Egg-Layers

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.

Jeff-Leen Farm's laying hens are free-range and nest inside a mobile wagon.

Laying hens are free-range and nest inside a mobile wagon.

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.

 

hensThe hens go into the wagon at dusk and the door is closed to protect the flock. The door is opened at dawn.

“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.

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.

turkeysBecause 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.

Wind Turbine

windturbineIt’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.

Jeff-Leen FarmPreder encourages the public to come out to the farm and purchase products as well. He says he’ll be glad to show the public around and answer any questions. Just remember to call ahead of time.

“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-Leen Farm in Random Lake, Wis.

Jeff-Leen Farm
Jeff and Kathleen Preder
N254 Highway I
Random Lake, WI 53075
Phone: (920) 994-9502
Email: jeff@jeffleenfarm.com
Website: http://jeffleenfarm.com/

Not My Farm, Or Your Farm, It’s R-Farm

macriemenschneiderWhen 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.

Mac Riemenschneider, R-FarmSince 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.

Steer

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.

cattleThe farm’s cattle herd is grass-fed on pasture from spring up until winter. The farm’s pasture is a mixture of alfalfa, orchard grass, timothy, festulolium, and whatever wild grasses creep in.

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.

 

hensBoth 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.

chickenpens

Chicken pens for rotational grazing

“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.

Mac Riemenschneider mixes his own feed for his pigs with the corn he grows on the farm, soybean meal and kelp. In the barn, he deep beds them in straw.Unlike the steers and chickens, the pigs on the farm aren’t pasture raised. They get housed in  the barn, but do have access to a large pen outside where they can come and go.

“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.

Raising Crops

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.

Barred Rocks are heavy birds that produce large eggs (about 20 eggs per month) and are also ideal for a soup chicken.“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.”

Three-person Operation

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

rfarmretailstoreIn 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.

R-Farm's retail store, located on the farm, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings.Mac believes in using the whole animal and Detjens helps provide odd cuts of meat that can’t typically be found in supermarkets.

“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.

R-Farm

Mac and Nicole RiemenschneiderR-Farm is a diversified livestock farm located in Dousman, Wis.
W394 S4398 Hwy Z
Dousman, WI 53118
Phone: 414-881-2098
Email: mackayrr@hotmail.com
Website: http://rfarmdousman.blogspot.com/
R-Farm is also on Facebook