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Minnesota Ag News Headlines
Hollister Family Is Rebuilding Soil For The Future
Minnesota Ag Connection - 05/25/2023

Hollister Family Farm is dedicated to healing the land, keeping their livestock in optimal health, and providing their customers with a quality meat product.

Abe Hollister, along with his wife, Brea, and their five children, ages 10-18, implement adaptive grazing practices to care for their livestock and land. They graze both cattle and sheep on a total of 160 acres south of Brainerd, Minn.

“Our main enterprise is grass-fed beef,” Hollister said. They sell their beef, as well as lamb, direct to customers. The opening line on the farm’s website is “Healthy land, healthy cattle and healthy people — all connected.” They also state the meat from their livestock is free of added hormones, animal by-products, and other unnecessary fillers.

Hollister Family Farm was named Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District’s Outstanding Conservationist for 2021. Crow Wing SWCD also nominated Hollister Family Farm for the Area and State Award Program, which led them to be named North Central Minnesota's finalist for the 2021 Conservationist of the Year award through the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Melissa Barrick, District Manager for Crow Wing SWCD, said the Hollisters were deserving of the recognition because of their own conservation practices and also their outreach efforts to other farmers.

Such accolades are impressive — maybe even more so considering neither Hollister nor his wife came from an ag background.

Around 2001, Hollister began working for a business installing agricultural fencing all over central Minnesota. The business was ran by Kent Solberg, who became Hollister’s mentor. Among Solberg’s ventures, he is a consultant for both Understanding Ag and Sustainable Farming Association.

During the 3-4 years of his work travels, Hollister recalled feeling saddened to see empty and abandoned farms. “I felt called to livestock, to care for the land,” he remarked. The idea of not just taking from the land, but also giving back resonated with him. Hollister was able to live and learn on Solberg’s grass-based dairy operation before starting his own business.

Hollister originally began with 10 acres. He now owns 40 acres, rents an additional 80, and also utilizes 40 acres owned by his in-laws.

The 40 acres Hollister purchased had previously been heavily tilled for a number of years. With time, he has witnessed firsthand the healing of the land and has enjoyed seeing wildlife come in due to the change in farming practices.

"The cool thing about the Hollisters is they started small and just kept trying to get the farm to where they wanted it to be," Barrick stated. The Crow Wing SWCD applauded the farm's transformation in their nomination paperwork detailing, "Now soil has organic matter, additional topsoil, water retention ability, and underground root systems and channels filter water into the ground."

Beginning a new career path had its challenges. “It’s not an easy thing. If you’re a new farmer, you have to be creative,” Hollister stated. “I couldn’t do what my neighbors were doing.” He stated the process takes time, hard work and sacrifice.

The opportunity to gain knowledge from others has benefited Hollister and he recommends to anyone starting out in the industry to do the same. “It’s nice to have that community to learn from one another.” He commented that “context matters,” elaborating that each piece of land and each situation is different, but there is information to be gleaned from others and can be applied as able.

Barrick highlighted Hollister's efforts to strengthen a peer to peer community. Crow Wing SWCD worked with Hollister around 2019 to figure out a way to communicate with the ag community and learn more about their needs. As part of a collaborative effort with various conservation-minded partners, including Happy Dancing Turtle, they sent out postcards to ag classified landowners in the Pine River Watershed as a means to find out more about their concerns and thoughts about conservation. Hollister then followed up with the landowners, and the partners of the project were able to provide resources as desired. "It definitely helped us get connected to people." Barrick said. This partnership resulted in Crow Wing SWCD, along with Cass SWCD and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Baxter field office, to be named the recipient of the 2020 National NACD/NRCS Earth Team Award.

Barrick also stated that Hollister has shared his experiences with other farmers through seminars and field days with the Crow Wing River Basin Forage Council, as well as participated in a YouTube video discussing soil health created by the Crow Wing SWCD.

In Minnesota, every county besides Hennepin and Ramsey counties have at least one Soil and Water Conservation District. Iowa has a SWCD in each county, with two in Pottawattamie County. Barrick stated their goal is to work hand in hand with landowners. "There's a lot of opportunity to have funding or resources to help them with their farm goals," Barrick stated. "We're here and we're available."

Hollister explained that by practicing adaptive grazing, he makes decisions based on observing what is and is not growing in the paddocks. Hollister aims to rotate his cattle every day to a different paddock, and sometimes rotates them multiple times a day. He uses step-in posts with a high-tensile electric fence wire around the perimeter. The sheep are usually moved every other day using a portable electric net.

Galloway, British White, Tarentaise, and Aberdeen/Lowline Angus currently make up Hollister's herd of 25 brood cows and their calves, plus 25 yearlings. He prefers a more compact cow that will perform well on grass, and enjoys having a variety of breeds and colors. The flock of 10 ewes and their lambs are Katahdin, a hair breed that Hollister stated sheds out in spring.

The livestock graze on perennial grasses, as well as clover. Around November, Hollister begins bale grazing for the winter. He purchases the hay and sets round bales 30 feet apart. “Our main way to fertilize is bale grazing,” he stated.

He has found that a lot of weeds come up the first year after bale grazing, and so he has the current task of trying to suppress some of those annuals. Hollister dedicates about five acres to cover crops each year. This year, he has planted barley and buckwheat, hoping they’ll outcompete some of the less desirable plants. Hollister has also used cover crops under the brassica umbrella such as turnips and kale, as well as yellow blossom sweet clover, which improves nitrogen levels.

Hollister additionally implements the concept of high-stock density grazing, moving 500,000 to a million pounds of animal per acre for a short amount of time. If there’s a weed issue, he states he can put his livestock in the specified area for an hour. They may eat 30 percent of the plant, and will also trample the rest. Hollister added the sheep can grow meat from grazing broadleaf weeds, and so he states he’s learning to value those, as well.

Source: thelandonline.com

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