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  • Cliff McConville

Our Journey into Farming (Part 2)

Updated: Mar 15

For Part 1 of the Journey click here...


THE RANCH In spring of 2012, our little backyard farm business was growing rapidly, and to make room for the dairy cows on the 8 acres behind our house, we moved our small beef herd, plus all chicken and egg production over to The Ranch, a 40 acre parcel just five minutes from our house, at the northwest corner of Haegers Bend and Spring Creek Roads. Twenty acres was fenced in with a good well and old cow shed, and the rest was overgrown woodland with a pond. The property was owned by a developer at the time, but with no demand for new houses they were willing to lease it to us on a year to year basis until the housing market improved.


It was a beautiful property, with the pasture almost completely surrounded by mature trees, many of which would drop branches onto the fenceline which required constant repairs (see picture below of cows grazing by chickens). Because we could only secure a year-to-year lease, it didn't make sense for us to invest any money into property improvements.


However, over the five years that we leased The Ranch, it was a special place where we really learned the ins and outs of rotational grazing, beef cattle care, and raising poultry on pasture. Many of our early chicken customers can probably remember our two summers of processing broilers there one Saturday per month before we discovered Twin Cities Pack. I don't miss those days!

We also kept our pigs in the wooded areas of The Ranch from 2012 through 2016, and they loved it. We would go out once a week with weed wackers and sometimes a machete to clear a path through the woods and brush for the electric wire. The paddocks would be very large, sometimes an acre or two, so the pigs would have plenty of space to roam and forage. It was really a great setup for pigs, we miss having those wooded pig pastures.


Anna joined the farm in spring 2015, first milking cows at the house, then taking care of the beef, chickens, and hogs at the Ranch. In fall of 2015 she started her own pastured egg business at the Ranch, in exchange for rotating our beef herd every day and keeping an eye on the pigs. It reminded her of her native Poland, and she spent many happy days there working alongside her father, before he passed away in the winter of 2016 from cancer. When the new owners terminated our lease in 2017 and began clear cutting the woodlands, it was very hard for her to say goodbye to that farm.


BEGINNINGS AT BRUNNER

By the summer of 2013, our dairy operation was quickly outgrowing the little horse barn behind our house. I had been scouting around for nearby farmland with a workable dairy barn for a few months when I drove by the Brunner Family Forest Preserve and spotted the majestic old dairy barn with big holes in the roof.


In August 2013 I approached the Kane County Forest Preserve about the possibility of leasing land for pasture and the old barn at Brunner Family Forest Preserve, which was only 10 minutes from our house. The property was not open to the public at the time, and most of the 700+ acres with 3 miles of frontage on the Fox River was leased to a conventional corn and bean producer.


The barn had not been used since the mid-1960's, pictured above is what we were looking at as we began cleaning up and renovating the barn. The Forest Preserve didn't even have keys to the garage so we had to cut a hole in the wall to get access (where the office door is now located). Stay tuned for Part 3 with lots of pictures of barn renovations in progress!

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