Zach and Kristin Herzberger have known they wanted to be farmers for a long time. But they weren’t always sure exactly what they wanted to farm.
They traveled around the country for years, most recently living in Tennessee, while Zach served in the U.S. Navy. During those years, they talked about whether they might want to raise livestock, or try their hands at row crops.
Once Zach was off active duty, they started looking for jobs and farms. In 2014, Zach found a job in Bucyrus, and they found a 33-acre farm in Mansfield.
Part of the farm was in row crops at the time. Zach had gotten a masters degree in crop science before the move to Ohio — getting into row crops is expensive, and he wanted to be prepared in case they decided to go that direction.
But the farm seemed like a good fit for a sustainable livestock grazing operation. And the Herzbergers had been reading about Joel Salatin’s method of farming with pastured livestock. So, they decided to give livestock farming a go.
“We thought that kind of management-intensive grazing operation would fit here,” Zach said. “It’s very minimalist, as far as inputs … I can do that. I can take a look around at what I have and make something work.”
The Hidden Acres, the Herzbergers’ farm, is all about using what they have, and making the farm as self-sufficient as possible.
They’ve made chicken feeders out of gutters, and let the livestock graze and fertilize pastures. They’ve used parts of an old barn that blew down to rebuild the new barn. They don’t need a lot of machinery or chemical inputs. That made start up costs cheaper than they would have been otherwise.
The Herzbergers put up most of the fences and buildings on the property. They hired someone to put up one barn, which Zach helped with. He used that experience and design as a model for the second barn, which he built mostly on his own.
They raise beef cattle and broiler chickens. They rotate livestock through the pastures, with the chickens following the cattle, in chicken tractors.
While neither of them had experience with cattle or chickens, they weren’t that far removed from farming. Zach grew up in 4-H and on a sheep farm in Indiana. Kristin grew up on about 10 acres in Pennsylvania, where her family had a garden.
Now, they spend much of their time working on their own farm. Zach is in the Navy Reserves, and both he and Kristin teach their six children and others through a homeschool academy they helped start last year.
It isn’t always easy. Keeping large numbers of chickens alive and healthy was harder than they expected. Over the years, they’ve refined their brooder and grazing systems. Since The Hidden Acres is relatively small, they also can’t grow as quickly as operations with more manpower or financial resources. But they’re proud to have built almost everything on the farm themselves.
“We’ve learned so much, so fast,” Kristin said.
Despite the focus on self-sufficiency, the Herzbergers do work with other agencies and businesses, and connect with their community.
They have used programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service to help fund infrastructure work, and recently got a grant for equipment through the Farmer Veteran Coalition. A family friend grows vegetables for his own family in a greenhouse on their farm.
The Hidden Acres also hosts farm to table dinners twice per year, serving their own food, and food from other local farmers, who often join to eat with customers.
“It’s nice to get the community together,” Kristin said. “And that’s what I think we like; getting to know all of our neighbors and people in our network, and just working together and supporting each other.”
They launched an online marketplace with other local businesses in 2020, after the pandemic shut down farmers markets that The Hidden Acres used to rely on as an outlet.
The marketplace allows customers to pick and choose local products to buy, including things like meat, produce, soap and flowers, and pick their orders up at several different locations.
Before the pandemic, they’d talked about having a CSA, but since The Hidden Acres only raises meat, working with other farmers for a marketplace made more sense for them. Some customers also like having more options with what to buy, and not being locked into ordering every week.
“It takes the pressure off of us to make sure we’re filling enough stuff each month,” Zach said.
The Herzbergers knew most of the other businesses through farmers markets. A few others, the Herzbergers found by driving around the area and seeing signs for farm stands. Farmers they’ve approached this way have mostly been receptive, Zach said.
“People love having another outlet,” Kristin said. “They like the idea of being involved in something that’s cooperative.”
Even as the Herzbergers start going to other farmers markets again, they plan on continuing the marketplace, too, as long as customers continue to like it.
This year, the Herzbergers are hoping to raise the maximum amount of livestock they can on their farm — 20 beef cattle, and 1,800 broiler chickens. They usually raise Angus crosses, but are planning to try Belted Galloways, because the breed reportedly does well on grass-fed operations.
They’re also looking at getting a small herd of breeding cows and a bull. In past years, they’ve bought feeder calves. But the pandemic has made it harder to find feeder calves, since some farmers have gone out of business.
“We always thought it’d be nice to have the whole operation here,” Zach said. “Then, we won’t have to rely on someone outside of here until butchering time.”
Zach and Kristin are hoping one of their six children will be interested in keeping the farm going eventually. They are working on finishing up infrastructure with pastures and watering systems.
“We’re slowly getting there,” Kristin said.
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