Pigs from young farmers in Houston County, Minnesota, are back in town. A Zhou

2021-11-24 04:32:11 By : Ms. River He

Editor's note: This is the first in a series on Nettle Valley Farm.

Spring Grove, Minnesota-Dayna Burtness and Nick Nguyen are behind Nettle Valley Farm. From June to November, they raise a herd of grazing pigs on 67 acres of land.

The farm is located in an area in southeastern Minnesota, known for its rolling fields and cliffs. Burtness said her family has deep roots in Houston County and she is the sixth generation of farmers working there. When she and Nguyen were looking for a "forever farm", they wanted to buy one in the area.

Before the couple moved to the farm in 2015, she was a wholesale vegetable farmer in Northfield. Burtness never thought of raising livestock until she was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, which forced her to stop growing vegetables.

"This killed my energy level for a while," Burtness said of frustration. "But after I got sick and basically recovered, I started to think, well, I still want to farm."

Therefore, the couple decided to raise pigs on a whim and only raised three pigs at the beginning of the first season. Now they are preparing for the finale of the sixth season, with a total of 75 people.

"There are a lot of livestock grazing-it must be difficult, but compared to growing vegetables, it is much less labor intensive," said Berthenes.

Thanks to the respective skill sets of Burtness and Nguyen, Nettle Valley Farm has flourished.

Burtness is the main farmer, which means that she is responsible for tasks such as signing contracts with the pig suppliers and setting up fences on the ranch.

"If you look through the camera, I might be the one who looks most like agriculture," she said. "And Nick did a lot of behind-the-scenes work. This is very critical."

Nguyen works full-time remotely from home, in addition to doing his part on the farm.

"Because I have this flexibility, I can help with the housework that needs to be done," Ruan said.

He is also responsible for all bookkeeping, paperwork and tax filing on the farm.

"But in terms of farm planning and management, and of course the farm's vision and execution, that is definitely Dayna," he said.

Nguyen did not grow up in a family that grew up on a farm. Before Burtness, he had never thought of having the rural life he likes today.

"Once I came into contact with it through her, I must have become interested in it," he said. "It sounds like something I am interested in helping and supporting."

Nguyen also has a knack for this job, which is very helpful.

"Nick is very good at agriculture. Although he didn't touch agriculture when he was growing up, he thought about the system and saw patterns," said Berthenes. "It helped me build a mindset of continuous improvement and how we can raise pigs in a way that is better for us, better for pigs, and better for the land."

After buying their first three pigs, Berthenes said that she immediately fell in love with these animals.

"I am totally in love with pigs, because I have a lot in common with them-we all hate heat, we all like to nap and eat," said Berthenes.

She said that pigs are also easily bored, which is why they raise them in a certain way.

"The best way to keep pigs entertained, happy and healthy is to raise them in a lot of fresh air and let them run," she said.

The pigs at Nettle Valley Farm are managed by Nick Nguyen and Dayna Burtness. (Photo courtesy of Dayna Burtness)

Burtness says that pigs require more infrastructure than sheep, goats or cattle. Compared with other animals, pigs need feed, shade, soil and more water.

Nettle Valley Farm is changing from a completely grazing model to a more hybrid method this year, which is called the "wheel method" due to its circular arrangement.

"Instead of moving everything from paddock to paddock every week, using electric fences and tearing up the ground, we decided to switch to this hybrid model, where we have a pig shed with their food, water, shade, soil and bedding. You can stay there," Berthenes said.

Then they will use the grid to make different rotating grazing paddocks on the pasture.

The new pig house at Nettle Valley Farm. (Photo courtesy of Dayna Burtness)

Burtness said a grant from the American Farmland Trust helped them pay for the shed, which has concrete floors and stainless steel automatic water pipes.

"So, instead of filling up a tank every few days, the pigs will have fresh water every time they take a sip, so I'm very excited about it," said Berthenes.

Both Burtness and Nguyen said that they like to spend an offseason from animals, but this business requires a year-round effort.

"I spend more time doing volunteer work and advocacy work in the winter, lobbying for farm organizations and things like that," said Berthenes. "But I absolutely like to end the season like this, and then have time to reassess the progress of the season and consider how we can continue to improve the overall picture of our system."

She said that the time left for animals also makes them more exciting when they come back, and they will come back soon. 75 pigs will arrive at Nettle Valley Farm in the first or second week of June; they will all weigh about 80 pounds.

"It's very exciting now about the improvements we have made on the farm, but then I just look forward to learning about these pigs," Burtness said.

Nettle Valley Farm logo. (Photo courtesy of Dayna Burtness)

She said that pigs are inherently funny, and there will always be some outstanding roles in a group. Last year, they met the "scratch pig", they always wanted to scratch-and the "boot pig", they just couldn't help biting their boots.

Burtness keeps getting photos and videos from farmers who provide them with pigs, which makes her even more excited.

"I miss talking to them every day, hanging out with them, watching what they eat, watching their behavior," she said. "They are just endless fascinating creatures."