Marie Pagenkopf likes cattle; her husband, Jeff, likes fieldwork. So, with their herd of beef, flock of sheep, nine horses, some donkeys, and 750 owned and rented acres on their Sandy Acres farm in Chippewa County, Wis., they enjoy farming together — more so than when they were milking cows.
“I don’t care if it’s cows, goats or sheep,” Marie quips. “I’m not doing any more milking.”
Jeff adds, “Not a bit,” when asked if he misses milking. “I never was a great lover of cows,” he says, even though he grew up on the former dairy farm he and Marie now own.
So now he tends the land and machinery, and Marie handles the animals.
Eight years ago, she says, “we were both in our 50s with no kids coming back to the farm. We weren’t sure what we were going to do.”
Jeff cites already low milk prices and difficulty finding help. They had been transferring miniature Hereford embryos to some of their dairy heifers. Calves are about 40 pounds when they are born.
“So cool. I like them so much,” Marie says enthusiastically. An enterprise was born for the Elk Mound couple as they opted to stick with the small beef cattle, now grown to a herd of 100 cows and two bulls. Later, they added a flock of Katahdin sheep, reaching 140 ewes and two rams.
Marie, who does all of the animal handling, says of the beef, “I wanted something easy to handle ... I wasn’t looking at big.”
She laughs and says she was tired of having her toes stepped on by the heavier dairy cows. She and Jeff were milking 400 cows after starting with just 80 on Jeff’s home farm, which they bought in 1990. That herd was replaced by the miniature Herefords — those cows grow to about 800 pounds — and a dozen or so full-size Herefords and the sheep to supplement.
Jeff converted all the existing buildings with help from a neighbor who brought a jackhammer and skid loader. Another neighbor helps with fieldwork, as does their daughter. Marie also uses part-time help.
The Pagenkopfs sell beef and lamb cuts direct to consumers, both on the farm and at farmers markets, and they also sell show calves and breeding stock. Marie shows her beef in Iowa, Minnesota and at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair. She likes working with area youngsters on their show cattle.
“I work with a lot of kids,” she says. “We have a Kids and Cows event in October, and there’s a show there. I really, really enjoy working with kids.” Calving starts in February for show animals; the rest extend into April.
Marie’s affinity for animals includes the horses she rides and donkeys.
“I’m a hobbyist,” she says. “I like having them around.” The sheep became another extension. Katahdin meat sheep, she notes, “are very good. ... Some years really good; other years, not so much.”
She breeds for spring and September lambing, often rising at 3:30 a.m. to help the ewes and relying on a helper for a later night check. Lambs come out black, brown, white, multicolored or speckled.
“That’s what I like about the breed,” Marie says, adding that it’s a prolific breed. “A lot of triplets and quads. We do a lot of bottle feeding.”
Lambs are butchered at 110 to 130 pounds; a full-grown adult will reach 150 to 160 pounds.
Beef and sheep are pastured separately, rotated about every three weeks within 15 to 20 acres, and finished in a lot with corn silage and hay. Finishing beef get a protein supplement.
Jeff raises corn, soybeans and hay on the rest of the land for feed and cash cropping.
He acknowledges that while he’s a few years older than Marie and thinks about retiring, “I’ll do everything I can for her.”
Buchholz lives in Fond du Lac, Wis.