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We like to say Otter Creek is a families farm, because besides supporting our family, Otter Creek provides a good life and livelihood to other families who live and work on the farm.
Gary is recognized around the world for his commitment to improving farming through restoring soils.Through a lifetime in agriculture, he has never stopped learning or teaching.
Raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm, Gary studied dairy nutrition, earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii, combined with years of hands-on farming experience. Teaching agriculture in southern Minnesota, he continued learning, studying and reading, always asking questions and looking at ways of farming with an open mind. He began asking questions about the soil and how it relates to healthy and productive plants, which lead him to read The Albrecht Papers.
For the past 25 years, Gary has been evaluating farming practices as a consultant, on his family’s farm, and as president of Midwestern Bio-Ag, a biological farming consulting company located in Blue Mounds, Wis. He operates the Bio-Ag Learning Center, where biological farming practices and agricultural products are field tested, and where the annual Field Day draws over 600 agriculture professionals from across the country.
Otter Creek uses the ideas Gary has gleaned over a lifetime spent studying agriculture.
Gary is the author of the book, The Biological Farmer, A Complete Guide to the Sustainable and Profitable Biological System of Farming, published in 2000.
His focus remains on the soil as the source of nutrients: how healthy soils produce healthy plants for healthy livestock and healthy humans.
Nick began farming when he was 14 years old, buying a tractor to mow a small airport’s fields. In 1994 he purchased Otter Creek Organic Farm with his parents, and except for several years spent attending the University of Wisconsin, has been a full time farmer.
Nick has been fully infused with the Mineralized Balanced Agriculture philosophy and is insistent in ensuring that his herd is healthy and comfortable and his land is well tended and mineralized. Unlike many dairies where cow mortality is a weekly (or daily) factor taken into account on a financial spreadsheet, Nick personally mourns the loss of even one cow. He knows each cow on sight and the history of each one, from birth to health to their attitude during milking.
Besides his thorough knowledge of biological farming, Nick is exceptional with the tractors and other machinery used on the farm. We hope to enter Nick into a “skid steer loader rodeo” to test his skills against other experts.
Nick recently built his house up on Red Hill, just over Otter Creek. All the wood used to build the house was sustainably harvested and milled on site, and the home uses a wood burning stove as its primary source of heat. It is just one of the ways that Nick shows his commitment to his land and living sustainably on (and off) the farm.
Randy is our herdsman and comes to us from a 500 cow commercial dairy. Unlike the dairies he’s worked at in the past, he is amazed at the overall health of the herd. In his experience, when a cow went down with an illness, she was almost certain to die. Now, he has a variety of organic or natural treatments he can give the cows and they will usually get back up and return to the herd. While this may not sound like a big deal, Randy relates that his friends—all commercial herdsmen—are shocked when he tells them of the recovery rate of the Otter Creek cows. “Its all about immune system,” says Randy.
After Nicholas, Randy has the primary responsibilities for the dairy herd. He is very attentive, and during a recent heat wave he would get up in the middle of the night to feed the cows – during the day they were too hot to eat much!
Mark grew up outside of Cape Cod on a dairy farm. His family sold the herd when he was 17 and they focused on pigs and market gardens. He comes to Otter Creek through a lifetime of farming, most recently on a dairy farm in central Missouri.
Mark, his wife Laura and Laura’s daughter Jennifer all live and work on the farm. Jennifer helps take care of the calves and helps her dad with his chores. Laura not only helps with the farm chores, she is handling the paperwork necessary to run an efficient operation and ensure organic certification. Mark is in charge of the evening milking, and feeds the beef cattle. He deals with any problems that arise, and works on all aspects of the operation, from mowing the lawn to haying.
The Hancocks also have the important job of minding the hogs, chickens and gardens sold for the Local Choice or Otter Creek Organic Farm brands, and for providing meat, eggs and vegetables for all the families at Otter Creek.
Laura says they have never regretted moving the family to join the Otter Creek team, because it is very family friendly and an extremely positive atmosphere.
Brian and Sharon are lifelong dairy farmers, most recently working for a 150-cow commercial dairy in Southern Wisconsin. Brian and Sharon bring their 52 years of cattle experience to Otter Creek, and are very appreciative of the opportunities afforded at the farm. Like Randy and the Hancocks, they live right on the farm.
Brian and Sharon became upset with the way commercial dairies were treating their animals. In their experience, these operations keep their cows on cement all the time, constantly feeding the cows medicines and often experiencing trouble with the feed the cows were given. This led to sick cows, a high mortality rate, and hard breeding – not to mention poorer quality milk.
The Zabels are delighted to work on a farm where the animals are treated really well. From pasture grazing to high quality forages and feeds, to mineral supplements, to the entire attitude of the farm towards the animals, Brian and Sharon are relieved to work with healthy, happy cows. (They also like the folks who work on the farm, but they aren’t producing the milk!).
Over all, Brian and Sharon appreciate the family-oriented feel to the farm, the good atmosphere, the people who work it, and the beautiful countryside. Every day in every direction, the vistas are like looking at a postcard.
Bartlett Durand, the Farm Administrator, is a lawyer by training and profession. He is heading up the marketing efforts for Otter Creek’s unique value added products. He is the president of Local Choice Marketing, a tiny distribution company focused on a cooperative arrangement with artisan producers in the Spring Green area to get their products to market efficiently and cost-effectively.
We also hire neighbors and people from our community to help with field work and relief milking.