After attending college and pursing very different careers in special education and biology, respectively, Erica Solis and Joel Helge purchased their 40 acre farm in Stoughton, Wisconsin in June 2010 as a way to provide sustainably-farmed eggs, meat and fiber for themselves, their families, and the local community.
Situated upon a glacial moraine hill, Emancipation Acres sits upon the dividing summit between the Yahara River watershed to the west and Koshkengon Creek to the east. The groundwater all flows out of two ravines out of the north side of the property, toward the Yahara River. Erica and Joel’s goal is to use livestock to restore the fertility in the soil, manage the invasive weeds, and create a fluid, sustainable system. As Erica explains, the steep terrain of the farm means that multi-species grazing represents the best utilization for the land: “Effective pasture management is not only important for building the natural fertility of the soil,” “It also allows us to manage weeds and desired forage without reliance on herbicides, and enables us to control parasites and disease in the animals without resorting to routine veterinary treatments.”
Emancipation Acres raises AWA-certified Shetland sheep and laying hens. Shetlands are a wool and meat breed, originally from the Isles of Shetland off the north coast of Scotland. They are a small breed, famous for their thriftiness and mild flavored meat. Shetland’s are also well-known for their winter hardiness, parasite and disease resistance, and superb mothering ability. Their wool is prized by hand-spinners for its softness and durability.
Erica and Joel also raise several breeds of laying hens, including Easter Eggers, Buckeyes, Delawares, and Black and White Jersey Giants. As Erica explains, these breeds are known as dual-purpose breeds, prized for their good laying ability and good meat: “This is an important management feature. By choosing dual purpose breeds, we have a plan for both sexes of chicks. The females are kept for egg laying, while culled males are used for meat.”
Choosing the right livestock breeds for the farm is important: “We select chicken breeds with smaller combs and wattles on as they withstand the cold weather better,” Joel explains. “Temperament is also important because calmer, more docile birds get along better, and with less aggression towards each other and humans.” They also specifically select breeds for their broodiness and good mothering ability: “Broodiness is natural instinct that many hens exhibit from time to time,” “A broody hen will have an overwhelming motherly desire to sit on her eggs to incubate them and protect them until they hatch. Broodiness is a natural instinct that is being bred out of many modern industrial chicken breeds, because broody chickens don’t lay eggs and industrial farmers don’t want unproductive hens. As a result, these breeds have poorer mothering abilities. At Emancipation Acres, we want our hens hatch and raise their replacement egg layers and meat birds naturally, as we find the chicks have a higher survival rate, grow faster, and are able to learn and engage in normal behaviors more quickly.”
“The most important part of our husbandry practices is doing well by the animals,” says Erica. “That’s the deal we have with them. We provide food, water, shelter, and protection from predators. In return, the animals give us eggs, meat, fiber and feathers.”
So why choose AWA certification? “We were blessed to find a certification agency that put emphasis on the management approaches that we found to be so important,” says Joel. “We hope that certification will help us grow our customer base so that more people can become more familiar with AWA and its mission. Although we would like to expand, we will always remain a small family-owned farm. In time, we hope to make our products available in farmers’ markets, grocery stores and restaurants. We would like to increase awareness and demand for the AWA label.”
Wool, meat and eggs from Emancipation Acres are available by appointment only direct from the farm. For more information, visit http://emancipationacres.wordpress.com/.