Nearly 10 years ago, Bob and Kim Braun purchased their farm near Marion.
They were challenged with turning 50 acres of prolific ragweed into productive organic farmland.
Today, Pigeon River Farm grazes and direct-markets 10 steers, 30 goats and 800 chickens (broilers and layers) with Bob’s “egg-mobile.”
The Brauns opened PRF to more than 30 people for an organic farm tour Wednesday, July 31.
The Brauns utilize a system-based approach in their farm’s management; ingenuity, creativity and a hunger for knowledge are the drivers.
PRF continually focuses on improving nutrient cycling, energy efficiency, diversity, production and profitability.
Organic vegetable production includes CSA produce grown utilizing their 30×96 high-tunnel system. Winter squash is grown for Organic Valley and a variety of small grains are grown and processed on-farm as poultry/livestock feed.
In recent years, Bob and Kim have begun making improvements in PRF’s energy efficiency by utilizing passive solar. They are also currently working on pond-based geothermal technologies in their home, building passive solar brooder, and installing a wood gasification burner.
Future plans include lowering energy costs further by adding Solar PV and Wind Energy systems to provide adequate power to raise 4,000 chickens and 30 beef steers.
On-farm renewable fuel manufacturing is also being considered as a way to provide a reliable and affordable source of necessary tractor and equipment fuel.
The farm tour featured two stations that showcased capabilities from energy aspects to poultry and crop considerations.
“I grew up on a farm,” said Bob. “I quit because there were too many chemicals involved. I got an education, but wound up coming back to farming – but with an organic focus.”
“One of the biggest things you need to know about chickens is that temperature is key,” said Bob. “Don’t keep them too warm. If there’s too much heat, disease can breed. The chickens can handle the cold. Even if it’s 20 degrees outside during winter, they will still be outside scratching around for food.”
Bob said he plans to quadruple the number of chickens on the farm within the next year, while transitioning to a year-round egg operation.
“Nothing gets wasted here,” said Bob. “Any unused eggs are blended with organic fish and then sprayed for fertilizer. Some eggs can also be hard boiled and fed back to the chickens.”
Bob said he keeps a few peacocks around as guard animals. The peacocks have also helped eliminate the tick population in the farm yard.
Feed for the chickens is all produced on the farm. Bob uses a mixer to create the feed, which is made mainly of corn and sunflower seeds.
“The chickens have open access to all parts of the farm,” explained Bob. “They can go in the woods, pasture, barns – pretty much anywhere they want. If they begin to range too far, I just lock them in for a day or two, which resets their memory and adventurous ideas.”
He explained that the chickens eat considerably less when they are out on pasture, but he still grinds feed about once each month to keep up the food supply.
“Some of the chickens will help us get into the hatchery business in the future,” said Bob. “Some of them will be shipped to an organic processor in Waupaca. The meat will then be sold.”
The Brauns use a gasification wood burner to heat their two-story house and their main workshop. The system uses extreme heat to force gasses out of wood logs. The system used less than four cords of wood last winter, and is said to be 99 percent efficient.
The shed has over 5,000 feet of PEX tubing under the concrete floor. The heating system has five zones, with nine sub-zones within the house.
The Brauns plan to add solar thermal on the roof of the shed to heat the brooder and augment the existing heating system. The solar thermal system (non-photovoltaic) they are considering has a 5-7 year payback period. An egg washing room is in progress, and two incubators have already been installed. Waste heat from the incubators is re-used within the building.
The Brauns recently installed a high tunnel, which is similar to a greenhouse, to help grow some crops during the colder months. The difference between a high tunnel and a greenhouse is that high tunnels are planted in the ground and have a covering (high tunnel). The high tunnel sits over existing soil. A greenhouse is often placed on blacktop or concrete, and soil or potted plants are brought in.
The Brauns grew peas, beans, raspberries, sweet corn, and squash in the high tunnel this year.
“We had mixed results this year, but it was more positive than negative,” said Bob. “We house some of the poultry in the high tunnel during the winter, but the crop season is significantly extended by the greenhouse effect produced by the high tunnel.”
The tour continued with some discussion on beef and goat grazing, organic vegetable production, and poultry hatching and egg washing facilities.
The event was sponsored by the Golden Sands Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc., and was facilitated by Grazing Specialist Teal Fyksen.
To learn more about
future events, visit www.goldensandsrcd.org .