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Creating A Healthy Food System Through Stewardship & Activism
Rebecca and Jim Goodman at the market in Madison, WI
By Lisa McCrory, NODPA News Editor
Added September 8, 2014.
Located about 80 miles Northwest of Madison, is Northwood Farm, an organic dairy and beef farm near the town of Wonewoc, Wisconsin. Owned and operated by Jim and Rebecca Goodman the farm consists of 450 acres of which 240 are owned and 210 are rented. Though organic milk is the primary income from the farm, they also sell organically raised beef, replacement dairy stock, dairy bulls for breeding stock, and some organic forages and grains. The beef they raise (12-15 steer every year) is marketed at the famous Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wisconsin.
The Goodmans have a closed herd, of about 45 registered Holsteins. Annual milk production per cow is 15,400 lbs per cow, a more realistic production figure than the 1981 average production (22,000 lbs) when they were conventional and the top producers in their county.
Their milk is shipped to Cedar Grove (www.cedargrovecheese.com), a local cheese-maker in Plain, Wisconsin that purchases milk from over 30 Wisconsin farms, “all of whom have pledged not to treat their cows with synthetic growth hormones and some of whom are certified organic.” The company produces a variety of organic cheeses, artisan cheeses, and a line of cheeses coming from cows managed conventionally, but free of rBGH and GMO feeds.
From Confinement to Pasture to Organic Production
When Jim and Rebecca started managing the farm in 1979, it was a well run conventional farm, using many of the tools a farm like that would employ. It was a confinement dairy (no pasture), They used herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and reproductive hormones. But at some point in the game, it became clear that things needed to change on their farm. Jim and Rebecca could no longer deny the fact that the years of conventional farming practices were having an impact on their health and the land. Tired of “using poisons as farming inputs”, the Goodmans decided to eliminate pesticides and herbicides from the farm. The cows went back on grass and they began the transition to organic production.
They started their transition in the early 90's and were certified organic in 1999. “Eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers and antibiotics was a bit frightening, but after the decision was made, it was easier then imagined”, says Rebecca. “We were very conventional, and good at it, so [our transition] was a 5 year+ process,” Their timing could not have been better. “When we got our milk on the organic truck, our price was $18/cwt, and conventional milk was $17/cwt”, explains Jim. “Within 4 months, conventional milk [had fallen to] $9-10.”
Northwood Farm partners Ben and Corey Pahl and their children Avery and Case
Building a Farm Partnership
Jim was born on the farm where they live and has been farming this land for most of his life – not counting some early school years and college, and Rebecca was born on a grain farm in
Southwest Minnesota. Jim, Rebecca and Jim’s brother Francis were the primary owners from 1979 to 2011 at which time Jim and Rebecca purchased Francis’ share of the farm.
Their children, Jack and Sally, though they love the farm, have other productive lives and had to choose not to farm because of the allergies both have to animals, dust and pollen.
In 2011 they started a farming partnership with Ben and Corey Pahl and in 2013, after two years of running the farm together, the Goodmans and the Pahls created an LLC. Both families take a draw (or a salary) from the business and the rest of the money goes back into the farm. Over time the Pahls will gain more equity from the farm and in 10 years time they will be 50:50 owners (partners) with the option to buy Jim and Rebecca’s half.
Today, the farm supports two households, plus a few part time workers. Jim is the livestock person, in charge of milking, AI, herd health checks, castrations, dehorning, and maintaining the livestock records (grazing, health and breeding records). Rebecca is in charge of the grazing system for the cows, feeding the outside animals, the bookkeeping, and paying the bills for the farm. Ben is in charge of the crops and machinery, and Corey is in charge of homeschooling and caring for their two children, Avery and Case, ages 8 and 4. Corey and the children help out with chores and haying; ‘those boys are our future’, says Rebecca.
In building a successful farm partnership, Jim and Rebecca have learned that it is important to allow their farm partners to make decisions and give them opportunities to try new and different things, and to take on enterprises that belong to them alone. A couple things Ben and Corey might add to the farm include chicken, eggs, and (food grade) spelt and other grains.
On Northwood farm, they try to grow all the grains and forages that they need for their animals and if there is a surplus, they will sell it. Crops grown include 90 acres of corn, 60 acres of oats, 32 acres of barley, 27 acres of soybeans, 9 acres of rye and vetch cover crop, 30 acres of oats and field peas, and 196 acres in hay and pasture. They had never purchased feed before these last 2 years, due to the drought they had in 2012 and 2013. This year is a vast improvement from the last two seasons and “if we got 2 inches of rain right now [early August], it would be excellent” says Jim. Of the 90 acres of corn that they grow, 30 acres is chopped for silage, 40-50 acres is harvested as grain, and the rest is sold. They planted 30 acres of oats and peas for silage and the cows are now grazing the regrowth.
Inside of the Goodman’s tie stall barn - doing milking chores
Housing and Husbandry
The dairy cows are housed in a tie stall barn in the winter and are milked twice a day. During the growing season, they are managed in an intensive rotational grazing system, moving to new feed after every milking. Older heifers and dry cows are in their own pasture, and at times the steers and heifers will follow the cows as a cleanup group in the pasture rotation. Young calves are started in individual pens, then move to group pens and finally are out doors with a loafing barn. For the first 12 weeks of life, they receive milk, ground oats, starter pellets and hay.
A typical summer ration for the milk cows would be 95% pasture, some dry hay, and about 4 lbs barley, hominy and wheat midds fed during milking. Heifers get 99% pasture and about a pound of ground oats per day. Minerals are provided free-choice. The winter ration for the milk cows consists of haylage (all you can eat), dry baled hay, some corn silage and ground high moisture snaplage. Heifers receive corn silage, dry baled hay (all you can eat), and oat/pea silage. Minerals are provided as a top-dress.
The Goodmans have a closed herd of registered Holsteins - possibly the oldest registered herd in the state of Wisconsin (Since 1902). Jim likes registering his herd - he feels it is important to have a pool of purebred genetics in all breeds of cattle, and he is able to maintain excellent herd records, which are useful for their organic certification.
When they transitioned their cattle from confinement to a grazing system, Jim and Rebecca also changed some of the criteria that they look for when breeding their cows. They no longer look at milk production as an important breeding trait, but now breed for longevity, good udders, feet and legs, and components. Their cows today weigh about 1400 lbs, have shorter legs, and live an average of 9 years. The heifers are usually bred with their bulls, and the milking cows are bred using AI.
A few replacements get sold each year, but Jim and Rebecca have not found a strong market for them. There is not much demand for organic cattle in their area, and organic cattle seem to be discriminated against at the sale barn due to their lower milk production.
Rebecca Goodman and her cows
Livestock Health and Nutrition
“The best prevention is a good immune system, plenty of bedding, sunlight, fresh air and a lack of crowding,” says Jim, who takes the lead role in tending to herd health and nutrition. When the dairy cows transitioned to organic, cow health improved, stress decreased and “the vet bills went almost to zero.” A veterinarian is called upon for the occasional injuries or difficult calving, but this does not happen very often. Jim and Rebecca are grateful to have a veterinarian that is supportive of their way of farming and sees the benefits of organic production and management. They welcome the occasional visit, as it is always good to have a second set of eyes on the herd once in a while.
A nutritionist from Midwest Bio Ag works with the Goodmans ‘from the soil up’. He will take soil and forage samples to determine the appropriate soil amendments for the fields, balance the rations for the cattle, and put together the best mineral packages for the cows during the grazing season and during the months when they are consuming harvested feed.
A hoof trimmer comes to the farm in the spring before going out to pasture and again in the fall before coming back from pasture. Out of the 45 cows, he usually trims about half the cows at each visit. They have very few foot problems, aside from a couple stone bruises; the twice a year visit is an important ‘routine maintenance program’ for the farm.
The cows are vaccinated for Lepto and Pinkeye, and Jim turns to homeopathic remedies, garlic, Echinacea, and other herbs when an animal needs attention. For mastitis, he uses a linament rub and aspirin; for a retained placenta, he infuses with hydrogen peroxide and uses garlic extract, and homeopathy; he treats milk fever with a Calicum IV and homeopathic remedies for preventative measures; for pneumonia, he uses mullein leaf/cherry bark tea; and for calf scours he uses homeopathy and charcoal. They also have access to some nutritional boluses from Midwest Bio Ag that are effective for a number of situations. But all in all, the Goodmans feel that they have a very healthy, long-lived herd of cows.
Books Jim likes to turn to when caring for his cattle include: Dr. Hubert Karreman’s book ‘Treating Cows Naturally’; Dr. Detloff’s book, ‘Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Livestock’; and Dr. George Macleod’s book, ‘The Treatment of Cattle by Homeopathy’.
With partners on the farm, Jim and Rebecca have more time to get involved in ways they feel can have a positive impact on the organic food system and the agricultural landscape. Rebecca is on the Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council. Set up by the Governor, this group meets 4-5 times as year. She is also a board member for the Dane County Farmers Market, a vibrant producer only market, in its 42nd year, located on 8 blocks around the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. Jim and Rebecca are both Advisory Board members for the Organic Consumers Association, on the Advisory Board of the Center for Food Safety, Board Members for the Family Farm Defenders. Jim is the chair of the Administrative Council for North Central SARE a Board Member for their Rural Electric Cooperative, a Board Member for the Midwest Environmental Advocates (a pro-bono environmental law firm) and an Advisory Board member for the USDA NAREEEAB (National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board).
Through their involvement, they hope to be an active voice in support of local food and local community. They hope to see a heightened awareness and support for a healthy food system with more land in organic production provided strict organic standards are maintained - especially when it comes to the pasture standards. “Cattle need to meet pasture requirements,” says Jim. “If they can’t do it in the arid West of Southwest, then I guess that is a place where organic dairy will not work.”
Both Jim and Rebecca feel strongly that the general public needs to learn what organic really means and see how organic food has clearly been taken over by food companies interested more in profit than principal. “And the ‘Natural’ label for food should be banned,” says Jim. “Pay attention and get involved,” says Rebecca. “…get involved so that you have some say in what’s happening. It is quiet complacency that allows the powerful to take control. Farmers need to know, we need to educate ourselves about who’s in control, and how to get some of that control back.”
Farm life keeps Jim and Rebecca very busy, but what seems to beckon them a little more these days are the ways in which they can be effective as educators, advisors, and activists. Bringing some new blood to their farm in the form of a budding partnership is giving them some added freedom and time to agitate and advocate for a healthy, vibrant agricultural economy with the knowledge that their farm will continue after they have retired.
Contact information for Jim and Rebecca, plus website address: