WOODMAN - With the world feeling so unstable at times and prices at the grocery store sky rocketing many may be considering what food sources are available to them more locally. Luckily, Southwest Wisconsin continues to thrive as a local food mecca with many small and family farmers continuing to tend livestock, raise vegetables and working to provide what they can for the community.
Jen Weber is a self proclaimed first and fourth generation farmer. Along with her husband Austin and their neighbors Skip and Mike Leibfried, they operate Weber Hollow Homestead in rural Woodman. The group runs a herd of Registered Scottish Highlander cattle, as well as a few egg laying birds, meat birds, a Jersey heifer who thinks she is a dog, hogs and ducks, a few dogs and one very spoiled farm cat.
Jen grew up on a dairy farm in the southern part of the state near the Northern Illinois border. Her father ran the family dairy farm but when the time came for him to retire, Jen wasn’t exactly in a position in her life to take over such a large operation. I was too young to know what I wanted to do with my life,” Jen wrote in her farm blog of the change. I was too young to even know I would some day have to figure that out for myself.” The farm eventually was sold and Jen ended up taking a path that led her to working in the dairy industry in a different capacity.
In 2019 things took a change for Jen, when she was in the Driftless area for work and saw farmstead for sale on five acres. Knowing that her dream was always to have a working farm again with a focus on beef, she told her then boyfriend, Austin that she was going to look it over with a realtor. In short time, the couple was owners of the small slice of paradise in Woodman, with a lot of big dreams ahead of them.
“I immediately fell in love with the area,” Jen described of her first visit to the Driftless. “Austin is a avid outdoorsman and hunter, so I knew he’d love it too. Buying it was very impulsive, but if I have dreams I’m not one to sit around and do nothing about them.”
Although picking up ones life and taking it across the state may seem a bit intimidating to some, Jen and Austin were lucky enough to land in a welcoming place and found community almost immediately. Skippy and her husband Mike who Jen and Austin bought the property from continued to own the surrounding property and they were able to develop a strong friendship and working relationship with the retired couple. The barnyard that is part of the five acres that they own, connects to almost 100-acres of pasture ground and through their relationships they were able to be “worked into the grazing fold,” as Jen puts it, along with two other local farmers who run the land.
“Trying to become a farmer is hard work unless you have an awesome community,” Jen noted last Friday afternoon as she paused from her barn yard spring cleaning work, with included several of her neighbors lending a helping hand with the job.
The couple focuses on Regenerative Agriculture, which as Jen notes consists of the belief of animals belong on grass, leaving the land in a better way that you found it, but also helping nature take care of nature.
According to regnerationinternational.org “The key to regenerative agriculture is not only ‘does no harm’ to the land but actually improves it, using technologies that regenerate and revitalize the soil and the environment. Regenerative agriculture leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high quality, nutrient dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading land, and ultimately leading to productive farms and healthy communities and economies. It is a dynamic and holistic, incorporating permaculture and organic farming practices, including conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping to increase food production, farmer’s income and especially top soil.”
The Highlander Cattle seemed to be a perfect fit for the family and their goals of regeneration.
“They’re more of a heritage breed,” Jen describes. “They’re super hardy from a health standpoint. We’ve been able to take more of a holistic approach with them. Wee have a vaccine protocol with our vet that works out for the important stuff, but overall we’re able to let them be an animal, we’re able to have them be on grass, and we’re able to have them be successful. They’re very feed efficient, and they’ve very docile. We don’t tolerate mean animals on the farm.”
As their name suggests, the Highland cattle originated from the Highlands and costal islands of Scottland. Over centuries they were bred to withstand areas of severe climate, which also makes them a great choice for Wisconsin weather. They also stand out from a crowd with long shaggy coats and impressive horns that darken towards the top. They’re said to have remarkable longevity, with many Highland cows continuing to breed to ages excess of 18. Mature bulls can weigh around 1,800 in breeding condition and cows around 1,100 pounds.
According to the highlandcattleusa.org “Unlike other breeds, Highlands are slow maturing making the meat tender, flavorful and succulent. Highland cows will average 900-1200 pounds when mature. Bulls will average from 1500-1800 pounds depending on forage conditions. A study by the Scottish Agricultural College determined that Highland beef is lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in protein and iron than other beef breeds.
“We work with Solar Locker on the processing of our beef and have been very happy with the interest and research Dwayne and the group there has taken in processing our Highlanders,” Jen noted, adding that with Highlanders, varying degrees of dry aging, up to three years, helps to create an optimal product.
During their first year of production the group was able to produce around 1,000 pounds of food and as Jen noted they’re on track to bring that up to 4,000 pounds this year.
“I want to have a direct relationship with the people who are buying food from me,” Jen explained. “With the state of the supply chain, decentralized foods are the future, and at the end of the day it is the small farms that will continue to feed the communities and that is what we’re trying to do.”
Jen explains that her hopes for the farm is not only to continue to grow, but to continue to educate folks on the importance of small, local agriculture and continue to make high quality food accessible as well as the hope to be able to one day farm, fulltime.
The Weber’s have pastured raised chicken and duck eggs available for local pick up or find them at Udder Brothers Creamery, as well as pastured raised whole meat chickens and ducks, in addition to their grass-fed beef.
Udder Brothers Creamery has a website with additional information that can be found at:
To learn more about the Weber’s and their farming adventures you can find them on social media at Weber Hollow Homestead LLC or on their website at weberhollowhomestead.com where you can also find Jen’s blog where she shares insights about being a woman farmer, working in the dairy industry as well as tidbits and information about raising chickens and why she puts fat, on her face.