COLBY – For some it’s about taking over an existing family farm, while for others it means trying out various businesses, developing a plan and making changes to the business as you go.
Mike and Gina Redetzke combined their love for agriculture by developing a custom heifer raising business in Colby, not far from where Mike grew up on a 55-cow dairy farm.
Mike and his siblings were home-schooled, which allowed him to help his family with daily chores and field work, and to learn about farming.
During his teenage years, he sought extra income by working for a custom harvester and milking cows for a nearby farm.
At 18, he tried his hand at welding on the road, but soon realized that his heart was really in farming. He returned to work for his two former employers.
In 2011 he met Gina while they were both working for the custom harvesting operation. After getting married the following summer, they moved to River Falls where Gina completed her final semester of college. During this move, Mike worked as a mechanic/equipment operator in a 750 cow dairy.
Two years later, the Redetzkes decided to venture out on their own, renting 40 acres of farmland near Stratford while maintaining their full-time jobs. In 2016 they were renting 165 acres but decided they really didn’t want to continue living in western Wisconsin while farming in central Wisconsin.
They eventually returned to Colby, purchasing a 40-acre farm from a retired dairy farmer and leasing with first right to purchase an additional 137 acres of the farm.
They faced challenges related to the expense of cleaning and repairing buildings and using older equipment while trying to make a living from farming. They have developed what they call a “frugal” lifestyle.
Although they were unable to purchase their farm from their family, they received help from Mike and Gina’s family members who helped clean up and repair their farm. They cut costs by sharing equipment with Mike’s father and brother who had taken over the family farm. In retirement, Mike’s parents helped him drive a tractor.
Their original goal when purchasing their farm was to grow it into a cash crop. They also decided to breed Holstein steers from calf to finisher. This business grew when Mike’s brothers started milking cows and needed someone to raise their heifers. Mike took on the task.
As word spread that Mike was raising heifers, it spurred a demand from many farmers looking for someone to raise their custom heifers. In 2018, Mike and Gina’s farm transitioned to a single custom heifer operation. Instead of cash crops, forages and grains would be used to feed the heifers.
Today, the couple raises 224 heifers for four different clients, as well as a herd of grass-fed cattle.
Mike’s main goal is to transform the farm into regenerative agriculture and modernize the facilities. He says intensively managed rotational grazing of heifers and beef cattle has also been an important focus for the farm.
Mike started installing high tensile fencing on the farm in 2017 and has expanded the system every year. The current grazing system consists of three large pastures divided into smaller paddocks by a roll-up polythene fence, with cattle being moved daily.
He plans to install raised walkways and a more extensive watering system as well as perfecting the winter bale grazing system that was introduced last winter.
Regarding crops, four years ago he achieved a main goal of not plowing all the land. He hopes to establish cover crops and intercropping in the near future.
For the past two years, cover crops have been planted between the standing corn fields and a rye cover crop has been planted over the bean soil in the fall. This year marks the first year that the entire farm will have green cover before winter.
Next year, he hopes to roller mash the green rye and plant corn in it, then experiment with deep-rooted cover crops to break up the compaction.
Redetzke says every cultivation decision is made with conservation in mind. All liquid manure is either applied by low disturbance injection or spread over growing hay fields. Solid manure is spread over a green cover crop with manure rates dictated by the SnapPlus program.
Minimum vertical tillage has been used on his new seeding this year with great success and Mike plans to continue the practice. Attempts to direct seed into new seeded hay fields have resulted in poor germination.
This year, the farm was enrolled in the CSP program with NRCS. Through this program, Mike will install a 30 foot filter strip at the edge of a field that borders Randal Creek as well as a 1.4 acre monarch butterfly habitat. Ditching and seeding low areas are also on the to-do list.
The couple hosted numbThey welcomed many visitors to view the trial plots on their farm.
Gina contributes to the farm through both physical labor and record keeping. She helps with the daily tasks of feeding, scraping and bedding, moving cattle and weighing/vaccinating. She also drives a tractor when needed.
She spends much of her time caring for their four children, Daniel, 7; Bethany, 5 years; Elijah, 3 years old; and Jonathan, 1 year old. She also maintains a large garden, grazes laying hens, grazes meat chickens and her dairy cow. Her work ends with the children by her side while she homeschools the two older ones.
Gina enters and tracks farm income and expenses in their accounting system, generates monthly invoices for their heifer raising clients, and manages budget and financial decisions. Her part-time off-farm career as an agricultural evaluator provides financial support to the farm and has helped her by giving her the opportunity to hear about innovative practices during farm visits and then contributing ideas to the closed.