By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — You know you must be doing something right when a television program wants to film at your farm.
Chad and Holly Berge of Colfax, owners of Berge’s Beef, will be featured on the Wisconsin Public Television program “Around the Farm Table” October 5.
Chad and Holly raise Scottish Highland cattle and use rotational grazing.
Scottish Highlands “are the ones with the long hair and the big horns,” Holly said.
The Highland cattle can be one of several different colors, including red, white, black and dun. The calves, which look like wooly, four-legged teddy bears when they are young, are particularly attractive.
“For a baby animal, they can’t get any cuter than that,” Holly said.
The Berge’s Beef cattle are kept at the farm owned by Chad’s parents, Mark and Ginny Berge, east of Colfax off county Highway A.
Mark and Ginny Berge originally owned the herd of Highland cattle and began raising them about 20 years ago.
Chad and Holly bought the cows from Mark and Ginny several years ago.
When Mark and Ginny owned the Scottish Highland cattle, the herd numbered about 10 animals, but Chad says, with calves that have been born recently, the herd is about 36 all together right now.
“They’re interesting. They are a totally different breed,” Chad said.
“That’s why ‘Around the Farm Table’ noticed us. We’re definitely one of the largest herds of Scottish Highlands in Wisconsin, and with the grass-fed niche becoming popular,” Holly said.
“There’s a lot of Highlands around. You can go on Craig’s List and find them quite easily. But they’re hobby animals. A lot of people will have a half dozen or a dozen,” Chad said.
“One that we bought from Minnesota was literally a pet. She was tied up to the tree on their five-acre hobby farm. They’re pretty docile anyway, but this was one was truly a pet. They were so sad to see her go,” Holly said.
“She just had a calf,” Chad noted.
Chad and Holly lived in Minnesota for three years where Chad was employed by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“Then Holly and I moved back from Minnesota, and we bought everything from Dad,” Chad said.
Chad currently is employed by Eau Claire County land conservation, and Holly works in the Eau Claire County treasurer’s office.
The Berge’s and their two-year-old daughter, Aubrey, live in Colfax. They are hoping to buy a farm.
“We’re working on raising our own herd. We started out with 10 cows, and with all the youngstock, it will be close to 20 cows. When you get to that point, then it starts to go fast,” Chad said.
“We are hoping to get into the 20 to 40 cow range and see how it goes. So we’d have a total herd, with all of the steers, somewhere around 70 to 100 animals,” he said.
“That’s a nice number for it to pan out and work. It’s where you need to be for it to work out financially,” Chad said.
“Since we don’t live on the farm ourselves, we are definitely looking for a farm of our own,” Holly said.
The competition for farms and farmland is fairly steep in this area because of the larger farms, Chad noted.
“Chad would keep farming this too, but he’s coming out here all the time to work with them and rotate them (on pasture). Obviously the more animals you have, the more work there is. And with a full-time job, it’s a lot,” Holly said.
Mark and Ginny have been helping to take care of the herd as well, and Chad and Holly say they are grateful for their support.
Holly said she believes the combination of an unusual cattle breed and the use of rotational grazing is what sparked the interest of “Around the Farm Table.”
“We’ve watched ‘Around the Farm Table’ for a couple of years, and it’s super cool with all of the Wisconsin farm stuff. They promote the local, small farmers. I started as the Berge’s Beef page and my own personal page (on Facebook) following them and ‘liking’ them. I would comment as Berge’s Beef. Then Chad got a call one day from Inga. Her dad produces the show,” Holly said.
“Around the Farm Table” is hosted by Inga Witscher, who lives on an organic farm near Osseo.
“Chad called me and said, ‘Around the Farm Table’ just called me, and they want to come out and do an episode,” Holly said.
“They just did an article in Volume One about ‘Around the Farm Table,’ and (Inga) was saying that this season might be their last, just for now, because she’s trying to do other stuff on the farm,” she said.
In previous seasons of the “Around the Farm Table” television show, Inga Witscher owned a herd of Jersey milk cows. Her father is a licensed cheesemaker in Wisconsin.
Inga also was recently featured in The Country Today for her garlic-farming enterprise.
Chad said he did not realize garlic can be such a lucrative crop to raise.
Inga sold her Jersey cattle and is interested in diversifying the show and her own farm operation, Chad said.
“Around the Farm Table” was filmed at the Berge farm in late October of 2016.
“They brought three or four cameras,” Chad said.
“And their film crew,” Holly said.
“It went from there. It was cool. It was exciting. And I think she recognizes that grass-fed has been gaining in popularity, and that people are appreciating the smaller farming operations,” she said.
“There are a lot of people our age who are starting to do farming on a smaller scale,” Holly said.
Chad pointed out that younger people who want to farm have to start out small.
“It doesn’t pencil out any other way,” he said.
“Quite a bit of it is direct marketing. The co-op in Eau Claire has bought our beef,” Holly said.
Rotating the pastures is a smooth process. Chad puts up another moveable fence and then takes down the one where the cows are currently grazing. The cattle see him taking down the fence, and they willingly move into the new pasture.
Holly has posted a video of Chad moving cattle on the Berge’s Beef Facebook page. It appears that setting up the portable fence takes far longer than actually moving the cattle into the new section of pasture.
“They’ll walk right around and come in. They’ll come running,” Chad said.
“They definitely know. When he’s out here on the four-wheeler, they know,” Holly said.
“As soon as the four-wheeler starts up, they’re already bellering. Once you get them trained with the fence and they know the routine, there could be 200 of them, and moving 100 or 200 would be about the same,” Chad said.
Chad describes the Highland cattle as self-sufficient.
“We’ve never had to pull a calf, and they rarely get sick,” he said.
Anyone who has been around cattle is probably aware that cows sometimes have trouble birthing their calves and need assistance.
“They are super hardy in the winter, too. The only drawback with the long hair is the hot summer weather,” Holly said, adding that it is important to have shade for the Highland cattle.
“There’s some trees over there, a little forest they can go into when it’s hot,” she said.
Cattle generally are happier when it is cooler rather than warmer, but the Highland cattle are particularly stressed when the weather is hot, Chad said.
“When it starts getting up to 80, and with the humidity, it’s hard on them. They need some shade. Angus, on the other hand, can be out in some pretty warm weather. They seem to tolerate it better,” Chad said.
The Highland cattle have “more of the true grazing genetics and do well on grass,” Chad said.
Other breeds of cattle have been selectively bred to be able to digest grain, such corn, but the Scottish Highland cattle have not been selectively bred to consume grain.
“People ask, ‘don’t they need the grain, the extra fat they put on from the grain, to keep them warm?’ But with the long hair, obviously they don’t need extra fat,” Holly said.
“Their meat characteristic is just naturally leaner. Even if you were to feed them some grain, because of the longer hair, they don’t have that fat profile like an Angus. The Holstein (in the herd) needs that back fat. She will burn that during the winter to stay warm,” Chad said.
A couple of the Berges’ Highland cattle are crosses of Highland and Holstein.
“It will snow during the night, and you can come out at noon, and they’ve still got snow on their backs,” Chad said.
When the snow stays and does not melt off, it means the animal is not losing much body heat.
“Their meat does not marble like an Angus, but the meat is still surprisingly tender,” Chad said.
“And here’s another nice thing about the Highlands. When Dad had that first bunch, one cow was the same age as me. I was 21 when she died. She had a calf when she was 20. So the longevity is another benefit to them,” Chad said.
In spite of their long horns, the cows do not injure each other.
Chad and Holly describe the Highland cattle as docile and friendly.
“They have a pecking order. The older ones will get a drink (of water) first, and they’ll just give a little nudge with their horn to get the younger ones out of the way,” Chad said.
In fact, during the time that Chad, Holly and Aubrey were talking to the Colfax Messenger, two of the cows engaged in a bit of a face-to-face stand-off. But not for the long. The younger cow quickly backed away.
Chad and Holly said the older cow was probably hoping we had brought apples with us and that’s why she pushed the younger cow out of her way. The Berges have discovered their Highland cattle love getting apples as treats.
“We have no problems walking up to them with Aubrey. Obviously we are aware of the horns,” Holly said.
“Even the bulls. They’ve got to duke it out. But eventually, one of them gives up before they get to the point of hurting each other,” Chad said.
“People ask that too — both the male and the female have horns,” Holly said.
When the cows’ horns have reached their maximum size, then they start hooking backwards, Chad explained.
The horns of the bulls and the steers, on the other hand, point forward, he said.
Chad and Holly have not yet seen the episode of “Around the Farm Table,” so they’re not sure what it will include.
The film crew was at the Berge farm for most of the day.
“I asked if they were going to give me something to go by, something to compare with. And her dad said, ‘Nope. We want it improv. We’re going to shoot, and the way it turns out is how it turns out. That’s the way the show is,’” Chad said.
Chad grew up on the farm east of Colfax. Holly did not grow up on a farm, but she spent time on the farm. Her dad currently lives on the farm where he grew up in the Hillsboro-Mauston area.
“You could never imagine the farm not being in the family. ‘Oh, let’s go to the farm.’ We’d go to my grandma’s for the weekend, and now my dad lives there,” Holly said.
Berge’s Beef will be featured on “Around the Farm Table” Thursday, October 5, at 7:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.
The “Around the Farm Table” show is described as “connecting consumers to small, thoughtful farmers through storytelling, forgotten recipes and entertainment.”
The host, Inga Witscher, is described as a fourth-generation organic dairy farmer.