Trautman Family Farm

  (stoughton, Wisconsin)
The Grass-Organic Life in Wisconsin!
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Team Trautman

"Family Farm" has, like so many other good things, had the good mined out of it for purposes of selling you something. Monolithic companies want you to be convinced that they are some warm fuzzy collection of family farms, when they have merely taken this good thing and used it only for their marketing -- hoping people will not check too closely, and just buy the warm image. Meanwhile family farms keep being eroded away by these same companies and their predatory practices. That's not what I want to talk about. But keep that in mind -- family farms are not dead -- but they need YOUR HELP NOW. - Scott

Well folks, ours IS that family farm you have in your mind -- it's me, Scott, wife Julie, and our kids - Ian 10, Quinn 8, Lilly 5 that are the heart&soul and labors of this farm. Here's the farm, here's the family, debate over.

This farm does not work if not for everyone pitching in. There is simply too much work to be done, too many things where one person cannot possibly do the thing alone, nor be timely enough to keep all the balls in the air. Each of us has our competencies, and our roles. We back each other up, we can do certain of each other's jobs, and there are those things that only that person can do. And the very best of things is "Team Trautman" jobs -- all of us together.

Team Trautman Jobs: Rounding up cattle that have gotten out of their area. We use polywire electrified fencing to keep groups of cattle in their areas. This fencing is easily moved from place to place for fresh grass or shelter. But on occasion something happens and that group of cattle gets out.

I can remember back to our first year with cattle: 2003, it was only 4 steers, and they were out A LOT, and we were complete nincompoops in handling them. Now, here 5 years later, it just isn't a big deal, and it's fairly rare that they're out at all. WE have changed most of all, not the cattle.

So we look out the window of our house and see some cattle outside their area. The call goes through the house, " OUT!". Might be "Little Steers!" or "Cows" or "Heifers", or horrors, "Pigs OUT!" (pigs aren't really that difficult but they aren't herd animals like cows, either). Whomever is there jumps to get their coat/boots on, we grab a roll of polywire string. It takes 2 people to operate a string -- one on the spool end, one on the end. We let out the spool, up to several hundred feet -- and get behind the group of out cattle, and then walk them back to where they belong. They respect the string, even if there is no charge on it. If we catch them early, they aren't very far from where they belong. The worst case is when they aren't even together as a group -- but have broken off in small groups. This is when it takes awhile to get them back in. Or get in the woods -- ahem -- a string is not possible in the woods, you need open spaces.

So minimum 2 people to operate a string. If only one? And it does rarely occur, well, different tactics necessary. Very difficult. 3 people is better, and 4 is great, especially if it's the crack Team Trautman group. Ian, 10, is now of a maturity and experience where it is effortless for him to join the group. Quinn, 8, is pretty good, but needs more guidance, and his personality is such that he can drift off into Quinn-land (just like dad can find himself in Scott-land). And even Lilly -- 5 - can help handle string.

Two people -- two points make a line -- we move the cattle next to the area they got out of. If some are still in, we have to leave it closed, so a person there to open the existing area string when we get the cattle back over there is useful.

"Be a post" -- we can get the animals next to the area where we want them, and either we have a plastic post in hand, and create a triangle (with area -- remember a line has no area -- very small geometry lesson here), attach each end of the string on the existing area string, open the old area up, and the cattle go back in. Be a post is that third point in the middle that makes it a triangle rather than a line.

We also use that triangle if we need to herd animals across the farm, to create a pathway, a big V, with which they stay in and we can navigate that wherever it needs to go. Otherwise, if only that line, we'll often use existing structures -- be they the perimeter fence, or a line of bales, or another string, to keep a wedge going.

We can always make it work with however many we have, but the more we have, and the better we're coordinated, the better it works. "Cattle out!", the orders fly -- Julie, you go get the string over by the shed -- Ian, go close the front gate and meet your mom back by the barn -- Quinn, you go over and put their old fence back up and prepare to open it, Lilly -- you unplug the fence and then find me. Lilly -- you're in the middle, Ian - go bring those two around back to the group. You get the picture. And bang -- 5-10 minutes later, everyone's back where they should be, no problem. A non-event.

We work together often -- so we know the job, we know how to communicate. Often it's a subtle hand gesture, hand signals we've practiced to know what to do when we can't hear each other, like around tractors. Could your family work together if they had to? Would they be in practice to be able to do it efficiently? Ours is, and it's because we have to be, and, because I think it's so very very cool and pleasurable.

Some of the warmest feelings of pride I have are when our family works together -- Team Trautman -- and I do say that on occasion to give the troops the reminder that we need to work together ("hey guys, I need Team Trautman today!"). In my upbringing, and many family's lives, there is probably teamwork between mom and dad (or not), but the kids, probably not. We cultivate and it is fact that we need each other, there is no point to individuals, we share, we work together, we're a team, and there is joy in our work. I take a special pride that my wife and I can work together - efficiently and effectively, without a whole lot of drama. (sure, some drama, but it's not MY fault, ha ha ha, oh yes it is)

A farm is good for that -- a family farm -- a farm like ours -- where it is designed from the ground up that we CAN work together. A giant grain farm, confinement operation -- are you kidding me? Keep the kids AWAY. Mom probably has very little to do with it. Hire someone as "labor". Man that sounds like work to me rather than the vocation that a family farm is to us. By design -- small tractor that our sons can operate, small animals like chickens that young children can safely be around, very mellow animals and teaching from an early age to respect and handle, say cattle and pigs. The Amish are experts at this -- training from an early age -- and we have learned this from them, and in the history and stories of what the family farm used to be -- is for us and others - and can still be.

We work in small teams -- like me & my oldest son Ian. Giving bales. One on the tractor (me), and Ian opens the electric fence to let me in. Rather difficult to do alone, given the cattle are standing just on the opposite side of the fence, and on the "out" side of the fence is their food, which they definitely want, and now. Loading straw bales in the bale chopper on the back of the little loader tractor, building up the bedding pack. Recently Ian was pleased to find out that he could do the most pushups -- by far -- of anyone in his class. Guess why? That's right, physical activity out on the farm -- moving bales around -- often about as big as he is. He's really good at using his weight to lever the bales where they need to go. What is your kid doing? Exercising his thumbs on the dumb machine? (computer games). Yes, our kids do that too, but we limit it. And it isn't kick them off that go sit in front of the dummy box -- the TV. I feel bad that too many kids don't have the opportunities ours do to be physically active, nor the will of the parents to have them be physically active. They will pay for it throughout their life.

Having a relationship with your kids is about spending time with them. We don't have the money or the inclination to purchase our fun, nor shuttle them to umpteen "activities" here there and everywhere, what we have are things to be done on the farm that need more than one person to do. I need help (which you may well take meaning beyond). It's in those moments that we work together that we talk about stuff -- what's going on, the questions of life, that just naturally occur. I can't make them happen, stuff them into a vacation or allocated "quality time", they just have to happen. And we get stuff done -- a very, very efficient operation the true family farm is.

Julie does the same -- she has a special bond with our daughter, Lilly. Lilly was born on the farm, she has been a little farmer all her life. That first summer she was born -- 2003 -- she was strapped to the passenger seat of the gator out doing chores with her mom. She helps mom gather eggs, hold string, whatever thing she can do to help. And as you can imagine, she is, for her age, quite good help, and is beyond many of her age group in her ability to understand and act on instructions. And because she has been around it all, I would wager she will pick up activities a good 2 years before where her older brothers would have.

Both Julie and I will "grab a child" and go to our chores. Or more than one. We'll split it up. Or send a couple children out with some chores they can do. They know they are important to our operation here. They are a part of it, and I dream of a day that they choose to be an adult part of this family farm. I admire any family that can work together. I know they must have done something right along the way to make the environment such that they can. That relationship can be many things; boss-employee, partners, and the boss can be the child or the parent. I dream of that day, way far away, when it's "Oh dad, we've got it covered, go play with your grand kids, we'll get this done".

Before you think this is some extended online bragging Christmas letter -- these relationships and activities have taken work, and haven't been without their frustrations and failures and conflicts. It is a work in progress. They get better in time through practice. I hope I get more patient and better to work with in time too. I have much to learn about patience and control (of myself).

This farm is a family farm by design -- on purpose for a long term goal.

This farm is an organic farm - supporting the long term purpose of sustainability - a hopefully multi-generational farm that through our success, our happiness, our ability to happily work together, our children will be drawn to this life.

This farm is a small farm, where children can be involved. We knew this was a startup business, and startup businesses of any kind -- much less the known work of a farm -- are long days. I've done it before, and I know it's 16 hour days. I was unwilling to do it at this time without my family - and miss out on those moments that pass so quickly in a child's life. Poof -- they're adults, where did the time go, where was I. I am here -- they are here -- we're together as much as is possible.

The work towards all this started on day one and was not an afterthought. I hope and pray for your family -- that you will find purpose, purpose in good, and find ways to work, live, love and laugh together as we do. May you have your own "Team Trautman" and know the life pleasures of your family.


Postscript, 12/6/08, 6:45am: Parenting in action, I just had a conversation with Quinn our 8 year old. I'm having to work on him to get him to be a willing and enthusiastic participant, in farm and home life and especially school. Nothing new there -- same issues at about the same age with his older brother Ian.

So Quinn has lately expressed that "Dad likes Ian better than me", and this morning, when I asked him specifically to be my "Right hand man" this morning, he tells mom "I did it the last couple times". So I had a parenting moment and went up to his room to discuss it with him -- and made my points of, No, I don't like our brother better than you, but that he's older and can do more things than you can and he has a good attitude, and "who cares?" if you did it the last couple times, we don't keep track around here of who does what when to keep even, we ALL help out as we can whenever we can, and finally, I asked YOU to help ME because I want to spend time with you and work with you so you can do the kinds of things your brother can.

So then I come here and write this -- while making some oatmeal, and the small act that proves the value -- his brother Ian hears the timer go off, rushes into the kitchen and takes it off the burner. No one asked him to, he just did it. That's the kind of team we're building here, and these are the moments of joy in paradise I am grateful for -- Scott

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What a good post. Team Faye here! We run a small farm in Kansas. We moved down here a year and a half ago from northern Wisconsin. Moved the entire farm! My husband and I started out as conventional farmers and have been switching over to marketing everything we produce directly. Having a family friendly farm is so important to us. Being able to share what we love with others is important to us too.

I wish more people could convey to the public that a small family farm is so much more than a business. It's an incubator for making some awesome adults, it's a way to stay grounded and connected to the earth, it's a way to keep your body and soul healthy. Just so many things! To me the measure of a person's success in farming doesn't have a thing to do with money, it's if that person's children want to come back to the farm as adults. To me that say's it all.

Posted by Heather Faye on December 07, 2008 at 06:27 AM CST #

Thank you so much for your comments -- you are so right on all accounts, and I am so pleased to see others out there that are living and farming "on purpose", thinking and acting for the future they want, rather than focusing on the negative or assuming it's the job of someone else.

I hope you can find a way to speak out as well -- please let me know, I would love to follow your family.


Posted by Scott Trautman on December 08, 2008 at 04:27 AM CST #

Here is our website. www.fayefarms. com

Posted by Heather Faye on December 08, 2008 at 05:26 PM CST #

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