Why do I do what I do?
I got into grazing at a pretty early age, or at least I was exposed to the principals and the advantages. My parents were dairy farmers and like many in the early 90’s, they were struggling to get by. Then in 1992, Grassworks hosted their first grazing conference highlighting the benefits of managed, rotationally grazing and our lives were forever changed. My dad became an early grazier and pioneer. I remember explaining the principles of grazing to others as a kid as, “it doesn’t make sense to plant and harvest crops and bring them to the animals, then clean up and spread their manure back out on the field, when the animals are fully capable of harvesting their own feed and spreading their own manure, AND it’s better for the land and animals.”
I eventually went onto UW-Madison, receiving a BS in Agronomy and certificate in Environmental Science, and did work on a MS in Agroecology. I took every course available related to pasture management. It still was a system that made the most sense to me. I had envisioned my future in research or with NRCS, working with farmers and advocating for pasture-based systems, not necessarily a farmer myself.
In November 2012, the dairy barn burned on my family's home farm. My parents had moved to Australia in 2005 to farm (escaping Wisconsin winters), and I was now charged with figuring out what needed to be done to get it ready for sale. From there was the catalyst to move back and farm. It was a big jump from Madison, a city I loved, but I found myself not loving working at a computer every day. Grassfed beef was a product that I was passionate about and farming was a way of life that I was increasingly drawn back to.
My husband and I moved back to the farm in August 2013 with our young daughter. In May 2014, while very pregnant with our son, I got my first herd of 13 angus steers. This was a pretty challenging way to start, with young kids and no perimeter fencing, but we made it work. Since then I’ve worked with NRCS, through the EQIP program, to put in high-quality high-tensile fencing, waterlines, and new seeding in my pastures.
Currently, I have about 30 head of cattle, with a mix of cow/calf (British White Parks) and feeder steers. I operate on 35 acres and do a leader-follower system, which allows for the steer group to graze a paddock first, followed by the cow/calf group. This promotes maximum gain on the steers by giving them the highest quality “first bites”. The cow/calf group then follows behind them. The groups are moved once a day, sometimes twice in the spring, as I manage intensively based on residual grass in the pasture.
Quality management has greatly improved my pastures over the last few years, evidenced by stand density and biodiversity. Utilizing the animals as landscapers, I’ve transformed areas that were once burdock, thistles, and stinging nettle into lush grass.
The last two years I’ve out-wintered in the pasture, using placed bales in a grid. The out-wintering pasture is also rotated and receives a great deal of fertilizer. You can see the difference this has made both in the quality of last year’s pasture, as well as how beat up this year's is.
Previous years I’ve managed with hay-making as a focus, but after buying a lot of hay this winter and many discussions with my NRCS agent regarding the benefits of buying hay and bringing in nutrients, my goal this year is to maximize my pasture acreage to finish more steers.
I direct-market our products, utilizing social media as my primary source of advertising. I also have a website with on-line ordering and deliver to cities throughout the state. This summer I'm will be doing my first farmers market as a way to grow my local customer base and because I think it’ll be fun for me.
As I grow my market, I’ll continue to grow my operation. I added 10 acres of pasture last year and have my sights on adding another 40 acres next year. We’ve also added pastured poultry this year. I continue to believe in my earlier explanation of the many benefits of managed grazing. Add to this the many other benefits: to natural resources, the quality of food produced, and the quality of life for farm families and rural communities and you’ve got all the reasons that I do what I do.
I’m greatly supported by my husband, Tyler, who works off-farm as a teacher in the Green Bay School District, and my two children Natalie (5) and Crosby (2). As well as by my parents, Robert and Barbara Eder, who are still milking about 200 cows in Bodalla, NSW, Australia.
Bouressa Family Farm is hosting a Women Caring for the Land event on July 20 from 10am-2pm. More details at https://www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com/upcoming-events