Life on the farm is kinda laid back

Hoekstra family takes a slow-and-steady approach to farm living
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LEADER PHOTO BY MIRIAM NELSON Quintin enjoys chasing chickens and helping his mom gather eggs for use and for sale. New this year, the Hoekstras are also raising chickens for their meat.

Hoekstra Husbandry, just outside of Birnamwood, is a hobby farm that is slowly but steadily growing — much like the resident animals and the family that lives there. For owners Jeremy and Alyssa Hoekstra, the 10-acre farm is just the right size for them, their two sons and another one on the way.

Pigs are their main business. Slow-growing, grass-fed, stress-free — these are all terms they use to describe their philosophy for raising pigs.

They also have a business philosophy which extends to doing what’s best for the greater economic good.

Jeremy Hoekstra explained that they don’t grow their grain and they don’t butcher the pigs. That way, the local farmers stay employed, they stay employed and so do the butchers.

“It’s a good way to be more of a community-based business,” he said. “It’s good for everybody.”

Jeremy Hoekstra works full time as a helicopter mechanic for the international company PHI, which leases helicopters to Aspirus. He works at the Wausau airport on a week-on/week-off rotation, which leaves him a lot of quality time to work on his hobby farm.

The pigs they raise are grass-grazing Idaho Pasture Pigs, a registered breed established in 2012 whose traits include being great-tasting and docile. It’s an added benefit that the pigs are good with kids as their two young sons — Quintin, age 4 1/2, and Brecken, age 2 — enjoy riding, playing and feeding them.

The pigs are very low maintenance; any that might need to be treated with antibiotics are not sold to customers, he said. In addition to being grass fed, Jeremy Hoekstra said they also get a small amount of grain with a high mineral content as pigs need a more diverse diet than pure grass.

The Hoekstras have been married for 16 years. Previously, they lived just north of Gulf Shore, Alabama, where Alyssa Hoekstra was the manager of a dental office for five years. After Quintin was born, she transitioned from managing three dentists and 25 staff members to being a stay-at-home mom.

An even bigger transition happened when they moved back home to Wisconsin and started the pig farm in 2016.

“What Jeremy didn’t tell me when we got the pigs was that I had to help castrate them,” she said. “When they’re little piglets, it’s not so bad. But we’ve had to castrate some 50 pounders because people backed out on getting breeding pairs. Now that’s a challenge.”

Currently, they have 56 pigs, of which two are boars used for breeding and six are sows producing litters of three to 13 piglets about twice a year. The ones being raised for meat need about 10 months before they reach a butcher weight of 200 pounds.

Word of mouth started them selling pork. Now customers can place orders through their website or Facebook page, or by calling or stopping by the farm.

They are licensed to sell individually packaged items of side pork, bacon, ham, ribs or pork chops. They also sell whole pigs, half and quarter pigs.

With the raise-and-sell pig business thriving, the Hoekstras decided to branch out and also raise chickens. They have 30 laying hens that produce about one egg each per day; an additional 35 chickens, housed separately, are being raised for meat. It takes about eight weeks to get to butcher weight, Jeremy Hoekstra said, noting that it takes longer to raise chickens naturally. But he’s hoping the process will lead to healthier animals and improved taste.

“The meat chickens are an experiment,” he said. “We need to figure out the cost and see if it is worth it.”

His wife noted that they always have a demand for eggs. If you don’t wash the bloom off the eggs, you don’t need to refrigerate them, she said, unlike the eggs you buy in the store.

And just to round out the whole hobby farm experience, they are also beekeepers.

“Between the white clover and the apple trees on our farm, we get an awesome-tasting honey,” said Jeremy Hoekstra. “We sell it raw; just strained, not heated or filtered. It’s as raw as you can get without getting stung.”

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: Hoekstra Husbandry

WHO: Jeremy and Alyssa Hoekstra

WHERE: P4693 Pine View Road, Birnamwood

FYI: 715-551-3600 or www.hoekstrahusbandry.com