Meet Niman Ranch family farmers, Brad and Kirsten Eckerman of Quit Yer Belly Achin’ Acres, a family-owned and operated farm located in Southern, Wisconsin. These two hard-working farmers raise hogs humanely and sustainably for Niman Ranch. Without these two and the help of their two kids, Brad’s dad and grandfather, Niman Ranch wouldn’t be the same.
We love sharing Q&A’s with Niman Ranch family farmers, and lucky for us, Brad and Kirsten took some time to come inside from their daily chores and a full-time job to answer a few questions about sustainable farming and what it’s like to be a Niman Ranch family farmer.
Niman Ranch Family Farmer Q&A
Q: Briefly tell the history of your family’s farming operation.
A: The farm was bought by Brad’s grandfather in 1964 and was primarily a dairy operation with a small hog herd. Brad’s father acquired the farm in 1989 where he owned and managed a small beef herd. When the cattle were sold, we decided to start our hog operation. Our operation began in 2016 with a single breeding pair who still live at the farm. We also raise butcher chickens 2-3 times a year and have laying hens, ducks and bees.
Q: How many generations have been involved?
A: Our kids (ages 9 and 11) make the 4th and are very active on the farm. Brad’s father David helps out tremendously.
Q: How many years have you sold hogs to Niman Ranch?
A: This is our 2nd. We are slowly building our number of hogs, but we project selling 700 hogs to Niman Ranch next year, farrow to finish
Q: What attracted you to pursue the opportunity to partner and become a Niman Ranch family farmer?
A: We wanted to be part of a community that held the same beliefs as our family—treating animals with respect and being able to sustain a small(er) family farm. Both of us come from small family farm backgrounds, oddly enough not with hogs – but we both love hogs.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a part of the Niman Ranch family?
A: It means we are part of the bigger picture in agriculture. The public wants sustainability and transparency. We are proud to farm sustainably and have a market that supports our mission: good food for good people.
We see our role as a Niman Ranch family farmer as a valuable partnership. We raise high-quality pork that has an appropriate market thanks to the company. We couldn’t stomach sending our pork to the commodity market! We are advocates, providers, educators and ambassadors in the community. As farmers, it is our duty to care for the land and the people in it.
Q: What crops do you grow on your farm and what sustainable practices do you use?
A: We raise corn, oats, alfalfa and soybeans. The conventional corn that is grown on the farm feeds the hogs. We utilize crop rotation, buffer strips and grassy waterways to reduce erosion and soil depletion. The crops are planted in contours. The manure generated by the hogs is applied to the fields for fertilizer
Q: What do you think is the most important reason to farm sustainably?
A: We hope to pass the farm down to one of our children when the time comes, and with luck, our grandchildren will also enjoy a life of farming.
Q: What about farming keeps you on the land year after year?
A: We can’t wait for the day we both don’t have to work off the farm full time. Farrowing is our family’s favorite farming activity. Baby pigs are the cutest! Our kids also enjoy building forts in the hay pile and jumping off the bales. We love being outside—and the pigs do too.
Q: What is the biggest change you’ve encountered in agriculture during your years farming?
A: The slow death of the family farm. Living in Wisconsin, the decrease of small dairies is especially noticeable. As a Niman Ranch family farmer, we’re farming the way it was 50 years ago. There used to be many, many small family farms, now they are dormant. Many owners now rent out their land to bigger farmers. There aren’t many hog farmers around our area, and definitely not humanely raised, antibiotic-free 100% Berkshire.
Q: If you could broadcast a message about farming to people across the country, what would it be?
A: Educate yourself from reputable and knowledgeable sources. Less than 2% of Americans are farmers. Every day a farmer feeds you, clothes you and provides you with items that you didn’t even know contained an agricultural product, like antifreeze or your water filter! Know where your food comes from, know how it was raised and know your farmer.