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Agriculture Today

Hanson Family Farm brings life to ‘critical’ heritage breeds

Hanson Family Farm brings life to ‘critical’ heritage breeds
Evelyn holds a Delaware chicken raised by her family on their farm in St. Hedwig.

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Wilson County News
November 27, 2013
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ST. HEDWIG -- A former FFA student, who dreamt of doing “something” in agriculture by taking pre-veterinary and ag classes, is now fulfilling her dreams. Danielle Hanson changed direction and became a registered nurse as an adult. Today, with her family, she lives in St. Hedwig, where they are raising their own food and promoting heritage breeds.

Danielle and her husband, Kip, along with their three daughters, operate a small operation known as Hanson Family Farm. What distinguishes this 10-acre farm from others is the couple’s use of permaculture -- ag practices that promote efficient and low-maintenance methods to provide food in a sustainable way to protect the land and environment.

“Currently, we are in the process of shifting to a setup where the animals help the land and the land produces what the animals need,” Danielle explained. “We have been building swales on the contours of the land to hold back the rain, and planting multi-functioning trees along them.”

For example, the Hanson family planted different trees for dual purposes, mulberries for shade and berries for the pigs; and honey locust trees, “which bloom for the bees in the spring, and drop seed pods for the pigs in the fall,” she said.

The couple also utilize rotational grazing practices to provide grass for the heritage breed animals they raise.

Heritage breeds

The Hansons promote heritage breeds, maturing their animals naturally and marketing their product to discerning consumers. The breeds include Dutch Belted cattle, Large Black hogs, and Welsh Harlequin ducks.

Heritage breeds “are the old gold standard,” Danielle said. “These are what the old-timers used to raise, before the production model shifted into viewing animals as production units, raising them in disgusting and cruel confinement operations.”

While their pasture-raised Large Black hogs take longer to harvest, their pork products offer a flavor that “supermarket meat doesn’t have,” Danielle said. Consumers gain pork with a healthier profile of fats, as well as antioxidants, she said.

“It doesn’t take much exposure to people with illnesses like diabetes and heart disease to begin wondering how much diet factors into their health,” Danielle said. “I began to change my focus from ‘mitigating disease’ to ‘preventing disease.’”

Their Dutch Belted cattle also serve a dual purpose on the farm -- beef products and milk.

“Unlike modern dairy cows, they produce great milk on grass alone. This is better for the cow, and it makes higher quality milk,” Danielle said. “You get all that great grass nutrition and beta-carotene, and we know we aren’t sickening the animals with heavy grain rations.”

Critical list

With their heritage breeds, the Hansons’ ability to introduce new blood lines to their herd is challenged, with only a few bloodlines to select. According to The American Livestock Breed Conservancy, Dutch Belted cattle are listed on the Conservation Priority List as “Critical.” The Conservancy List rates breeds under the headings of study, recovering, watch, threatened, or critical.

The Hansons also raise Large Black hogs. These animals are also on the “critical” list.

“There are several ‘families’ or distinct bloodlines available, and responsible breeders are careful to preserve them as much as possible,” Danielle said. “Any extra trouble to locate quality breeding stock is worthwhile, to us, to preserve these animals. If you think about it, though, in the wild, many animals run in large herds, and are not nearly as preoccupied with ‘new bloodlines’ as humans seem to think they should be.”

The family also raises Delaware chickens, which are good layers. This breed of chickens is on the “threatened” list of the livestock conservancy.

Their oldest daughter, Madilyn, has branched out with her own venture, and raises Welsh Harlequin ducks for eggs and meat. This line also is listed as critical.

“She saved up her own money to purchase them, and has been taking care of them since they were day-old ducklings,” Danielle said.

Turkeys, marketing

While the family’s herds comprise heritage breeds, they also raise industry-standard large white turkeys. These birds are also pasture-raised.

“Turkeys are one of the animals that conjugate cancer-fighting CLA [Conjugated linoleic acids] in their meat, but only when they are raised on grass, not in confinement,” the registered nurse said.

The family is involved with Community Supported Agriculture. According to the Hanson Family Farm’s website, Community Supported Agriculture “is like a farm membership, or subscription. A few families will be in partnership with Hanson Family Farm, paying monthly dues for a share of the farm’s production.”

This evolved naturally, Danielle said, and “creates a partnership between the farmers who produce the food and the consumer who eventually cooks it. It allows people to have a stake in the operation, to understand what actually goes into the production of their meats and eggs, and it provides steady income for us to keep feeding all those mouths.”

For example, it takes approximately one year to raise a pig for harvest. “During this time, they eat a lot of organic grain, which isn’t cheap,” Danielle said.

The Hansons offer handcrafted all-vegetable and goat milk soaps, pastured eggs, pasture-raised pork and chicken, and grass-fed beef.

The family participates in the La Vernia Farmers Market every Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. The market is located next to Busy Bear Restaurant off U.S. 87.

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