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Engelbert Farms

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Engelbert Farms
About Us
The key event that got me thinking seriously about the shape of our farm,
and the direction we were headed was the purchase of 20 bred heifers in the
summer of 1979. I was quite proud of the fact that we were doing so,
because up until then we had had a closed herd, and I thought purchasing
heifers was a sign of progress! My grandmother opened my eyes when she
learned of our need to purchase heifers to maintain cow numbers by saying "
Well, we always had extra heifers to sell--sure helped our bottom line.
Just think how much better off you would be if you were selling heifers
instead of buying them!" And she was, of course, right.

I spent that winter doing a lot of thinking, and came to the obvious
conclusion that there had to be a connection between the amount of money we
were spending on chemicals and all the problems we were having. As an
experiment in 1980, we used oats as a nurse crop for our alfalfa seedings,
instead of clear seeding with Eptam, and surprise, surprise - we had a good
crop of oats and a nice stand of alfalfa. Who would've thunk it?

That was all the success I needed. In 1981 we quit using chemicals
cold-turkey, and haven't used any since. Seven years later, after our herd
health checks had gradually been reduced to an `as-needed' basis, I finally
had the confidence to sell all of our spraying equipment. In spite of all
the nay-sayers, we have seen with our own eyes the truth about soil health,
plant health, animal health, and, in turn, human health. Changing our
rotational hay crop from pure alfalfa to a mixture of orchardgrass, clover,
and alfalfa has allowed us to become less susceptible to losses from
flooding. We have learned that the more you work with Mother Nature, the
more successful you will be in the long run, and that's what we try to do
with our crops and our animals, as much as our location and facilities
allow.

A huge step in that direction was rotational grazing, which we began in
the late 1980's. Getting the cows out of the barn and off concrete was
another eye-opening experience. It didn't take long to realize that managed
grazing was also going to be a key in our long-term sustainability. Our
herd's health had been continuously improving since we converted to organic
crop production, and it improved even more once we started pasturing again.
(By the late 60's, in an effort to push milk production even higher, my dad
had stopped pasturing the milking cows, and by the middle 70's, he had stopped
pasturing dry cows and bred heifers.)

Our feeding program has evolved to the point that we feed only 8-10 lbs.
of high moisture ground ear corn per milking cow per day, along with
pasture, supplemented with baleage as needed throughout the year. We feed
kelp at a rate of 2 oz. per cow per day, and offer some free choice during
stressful times of the year.

By and large, we have moved to seasonal milk production, to time our peak
milk production with peak pasture production. We do milk all year, but the
majority of our cows freshen in the spring and early summer, and we don't
normally freshen any animals from December thru February. Our herd health
strategy basically involves keeping our soils healthy and in balance as best
we can.

We also don't push the cows for production and we keep them outdoors all
the time, which helps them stay healthy: There has never been a barn
designed and built by cows. They are meant to be outdoors. We don't have a
cow in our herd that has ever had her feet trimmed, or that has ever been
examined by a vet for anything other than a pregnancy check. We spend less
than $2/cow/year on purchased feed (kelp), and less than $2/cow/year on vet
expenses (dehorning calves). We did not reach these numbers overnight, but
gradually as our soil health continued to improve over the years.
Practices

Philosophy:
We believe in local, sustainable agriculture and are organic consumers ourselves.

Soil:
We utilize the manure from our dairy animals as the main fertilizer on our farm.

Weed Control:
We cultivate (a form of weeding) our crops instead of using chemical herbicides. Despite this, our crop yields are comparable to conventional (chemically-managed) crops.

Pest Management:
We have very little issue with pests. This was one of our biggest fears when we transitioned to organic production in the early 1980s. However, once we stopped spraying toxic chemicals, Mother Nature took over and the beneficial insects returned!