By Jeremy Johnson, Category Manager–Meat
Wisconsin Meadows Grass-Fed Beef Cooperative is a farmer-owned cooperative of about 185 grass-fed beef farmers from all over the state of Wisconsin. Their mission is to provide 100% grass-fed, grass-finished beef that is raised naturally, without the use of synthetic growth hormones or antibiotics. They utilize rotational grazing and well-managed pastures to protect soil and water resources. This also helps to maintain wildlife habitats. There are never chemical herbicides or pesticides used on any of their pastures.
Willy Street Co-op was recently invited by Wisconsin Meadow’s General Manager Rod Ofte to visit a few of their farms, including his own farm in Coon Valley, Wisconsin, just outside Viroqua.
We met Rod at his farm on beautiful July day. We toured the farm via tractor hayride with amazing views of rolling pasture lands that are rich with sorghum, rye, clover and grass.
Rod explained that the cows will eat anything that is growing, even small trees like buckthorn.
Unfortunately the cows were not visible on the hillside, as it was the heat of the day and they had sought out shade under trees at the top of the hill. (This hillside is also used by Rod’s children for sledding.) The cows are allowed to graze in the pasture until the grass is about six inches long before they are moved to new areas of pasture. This is beneficial to the cows as well as the land. If the grass gets much lower than six inches it increases the risk of the cows ingesting worms and other bugs. This protects the land by insuring a strong root system and prevents runoff into waterways—there is an amazing trout stream that flows through the farm.
Rod works hand–in-hand with the DNR to survey the water quality and the amount of trout and other aquatic life that live in there. He is extremely proud of the quality of water on his land.
We were able able to see some of the cows at the end of the tour when he lured a few out of the trees with what he calls sushi for cows which is actually just organic dried kelp and minerals. He let each of us try some and it was actually really good. The kelp helps with digestion and the cows love it.
The other farm we visited was by Westby, Wisconsin and is owned by Farmer Jim. Jim runs one of the cow and calf operations for the cooperative. Since all of the cattle Wisconsin Meadows sells are born and raised in Wisconsin, they have certain farms that specialize in just birthing and raising calves.
Farmer Jim raises about 30 calves a year. The calves have 100% access to their mothers’ milk and are slowly weaned from milk to grass alongside their mothers in pasture until they get to be about six to eight months old. They are then moved to another farmer inside the co-op.
I have known and worked with Rod for about six years and have always known him to be passionate about grass-fed beef, but having the opportunity to visit his farm and see how much pride he takes in his land and all of the life that inhabits it was truly a pleasure and makes me proud to work with their co-op.