Country Acres South - March 4, 2023

Page 1

Wurst raises elk, grows chestnuts

PLAINVIEW - Kraig Wurst delved into creating an elk farm after reading a magazine article. Years later, an article on chestnuts prompted him to diversify his farm and add those too.

Today, he has about 40 head of elk and sells elk meat, cows and bulls. He’s awaiting his first crop of chestnuts from the 1,000 trees he has planted across 10 acres at Harvest Grove Farms.

The farm has a seasonal rhythm.

“Chestnuts are spring, and I’m busy with elk early summer,” Wurst said. “In September the chestnuts should drop, and October becomes a busy time for the elk – moving them and getting them into pens for breeding.”

His elks calve in late May or early June, and he takes the bull calves to auction when they are a year old.

“They’re a pretty animal to deal with,” Wurst said. “It’s fun. They’ve got their own personalities. They’re different than a beef cow would be.”

Wurst said elk are fairly low maintenance, and he said they are hardy animals who aren’t bothered by Minnesota winters. He processes the elk a couple of times each year for shots and said the animals are susceptible to worms, so he works to prevent them.

The elk graze the pasture – eating grass – and are raised on hay. The young ones get oats through-

out the winter as does the bull as he grows his antlers. He keeps the animals on 15 acres and said he can put three elk where one beef cow would go. He has five different pens he moves the elk through.

“The more you’re around them and deal with them, the tamer they get or calmer they get,” Wurst said. “The first couple years there were always one or two who would never go where you wanted them to and it was a battle.”

He’s still careful with the bulls during the rut.

“They’re ornery. I try not to handle them any more than I have to,” he said. “They’re in with the cows, and I try to stay out of the pen most of the time.”

The mothers, he said, tend well to their calves.

Wurst used to cut velvet from antlers to be used in arthritis/pain medication, but he doesn’t do that anymore. Now, he has a market for the hard antler sheds. People use them as dog chews.

Wurst used to ship his bulls out of state to ranches out west where people could hunt animals, but he said, with tightened regulations due to chronic wasting disease, that has become a lot more difficult. He does still sell cows and bulls to other farmers.

Wurst page 2

SUBMITTED Kraig Wurst tends to a threeyear-old chestnut tree at Harvest Grove Farms. This year will be the first in which he gets to harvest a crop of chestnuts.

Saturday, March 4, 2023 | Country Acres South • Page 1 Unique farm diversity Unique Saturday,March4,2023Volume1,Edition19FocusingonToday’sRuralEnvironment ST R Publications bliti The newspaper of today is the history of tomorrow. This month in the Country: Watch for the next edition of Country Acres on March 18, 2023 PRSRT STD ECR U.S. POSTAGE PAID PERMIT #278 Madelia, MN 522 Sinclair Lewis Ave Sauk Centre MN 56378 5 Memories from the car AmyKyllocolumn 6 Junk to art Wanamingo 10 Ushering in efficiency Winona
Vo olu u lme1,Edition19Focusingon nToday’sR SOUTH rvest ad of
PHOTO BY AMY KYLLO Elk rummage through a blanket of snow Feb. 24 at Harvest Grove Farm near Plainview. The Wurst family have 40 head of elk and sell elk meat to customers and a few restaurants.
In September the chestnuts should drop, and October becomes a busy time for the elk.
- Kraig Wurst


Published by Star Publications

Copyright 2014

522 Sinclair Lewis Ave.

Sauk Centre, MN 56378

Phone: 320-352-6577 | Fax: 320-352-5647


Mark Klaphake, Editor,

Grace Jeurissen, Editor,

Amy Kyllo, Writer,

Tiffany Klaphake, Writer,

Jan Lefebvre, Writer,

Ben Sonnek, Writer,

Sarah Colburn, Staff Writer

Story ideas send to:,


Laura Seljan, 507-350-2217,

Julia Mullenbach, 507-438-7739,

Missy Traeger, 320-291-9899,

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Jaime Ostendorf, 320-309-1988,

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ISSN Print: 2834-6491 | Online: 2834-6505


Country Acres will be published the first and third Saturday of every month. Deadline for news and advertising is the Thursday before publication.

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“Committed to being the eyes and ears of our communities.”

“It seems like we’re making good progress on chronic wasting,” he said. “But, the state wants to keep making things more strict.”

He’s concerned there’s a movement to ban imports of elk or elk semen from states that have CWD in the wild.

“That would really cut things down,” he said. “It’s something to worry about. It’s hard to get people interested in elk farming when there’s this much regulation over it.”

Wurst has an eight-foot fence around his herd and double gates due to regulations although he said, unless he leaves a gate open, the animals aren’t prone to leaving.

Regulations do require that every elk that dies has to be tested for CWD, but he said the animals are less susceptible to it than white-tailed deer. Still, his farm is inspected every year by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

Wurst processes eight to 10 of his elk a year for meat, and he’s working to double that in the coming years.

“The demand for elk meat seems like it’s pretty high,” he said.

He sells a lot of burger as well as steaks, and he sells not only to individual consumers but to a couple different restaurants.

R“It’s a healthier meat,” Wurst said. “It’s basically got the same properties as chicken breast –low calorie, high protein, low fat

– but it’s a red meat.”

Wurst said elk doesn’t have a gamey taste and many people have trouble telling the difference between elk meat and chicken.

While he used to look for antler size when he chose animals for breeding, now he looks

at the size of the animal and breedability. Typically, he said, animals have a hanging weight of 300 to 350 pounds. When Wurst isn’t working with his elk, he’s working with his chest-

Wurst page 3

Page 2 • Country Acres South | Saturday, March 4, 2023 CZmar4-1B-JM
Wurst from front
PHOTO SUBMITTED The Wurst family – Vienna (from left), Vince, Kraig, Vale, Violet and Jenny –stop for a family photo during vacation. Members of the Wurst family all contribute to work on the farm.

Wurst from page 2

nuts. He hand-planted the grove of trees four years ago along with the help of his wife, Jenny, and their kids, Violet, 11; Vince, 9; Vienna, 7; and Vale, 3.

“We’re as far north as you can get to grow chestnuts,” he said. “We’re right kind of on the edge I think.”

The trees begin producing four to five years after

planting and reach their full potential at 10 to 12 years. As Wurst anticipates his first crop, he, with the help of his father, Herb, mows around the trees. He also fertilizes them and prunes them.

Wurst said he’s looking forward to providing chestnuts to consumers once the trees start producing.

“It just seems like there’s a big demand for them and there’s not very many farms around who grow chestnuts,” he said.

Saturday, March 4, 2023 | Countr y Acres South • Page 3
PHOTO BY AMY KYLLO (Above) Elk frolic in their paddocks Feb. 24 at Harvest Grove Farm near Plainview. When processed for meat, an elk carcass hanging weight is 300 to 350 pounds.
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(Right) An elk bull calls to the rest of his herd. In the fall, bulls are placed with cows for breeding.
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Davidson from page 6

In his stanchion piece, the stanchion and drinking cup are all mounted together on a wood base. It’s his way of preserving the past.

“The stanchion … that’s important to me, because that’s history,” Davidson said. “Stanchion barns, there is not very many of them left.”

Davidson also made abstract piping lamps. He took the piping from in front of where the cows stand in the stanchion, assembled them into abstract pieces and equipped them with light bulbs. The finished project is at once modern and, at the same time, grounded in the past.

Davidson grew up on a 40-cow dairy farm and later dairy farmed himself for 16 years before spending the rest of his career working in maintenance for a country school in Wastido. He moved to town a few years ago and has a small work area in his basement in Wanamingo as well as a shop out on the farm which is south of Wanamingo.

To make his art, Davidson begins by bringing in the pieces and cleaning them. He uses soap and water, sandpaper and different sized scrapers to get them ready. He also uses a bristle attachment on his drill to take off much of the debris.


Two of Dave Davidson’s piping lamps are displayed at his home Feb. 24 in Wanamingo. Davidson creates one-of-a-kind art from pieces he finds.

Davidson takes the initial pieces of his projects one of two ways. He will either choose to keep them original and just clean them and paint on a clear coat, or he will fully sand them down and repaint them. Since the pieces come out of the barn, they pose a difficult and dirty challenge for Davidson to get them ready to be used.

“It’s always cruddy and dirty and rusty and ugly,” Davidson said. “You start with manure on it and everything and grease … and it’s pretty well used

and bent or the bolts are rusted together.”

To decide how to assemble the pieces, Davidson begins by laying out an assortment of collected things he has to work with. From this assortment he begins to see what would fit well together.

“I can see what I got,” Davidson said. “See what I think is gonna look cool, or, you know, interesting. And then I start placing

things.” Finding an assemblage that Davidson likes can be difficult.

He said that even after a project is complete, he will sometimes take it apart again because he doesn’t like the combination.

When Davidson creates his art, he keeps weight in mind.

“The key to some of this though, is to keep it so it doesn’t weigh so much,” Davidson said. “Because, if it’s super heavy, it’s very difficult for people to (use).”

To keep the weight down, he limits the number of pieces he puts into one creation. When assembling, Davidson also avoids creating a piece in such a way that people can see how he put it together.

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from page 7

“I try not to add anything that would look like, ‘Well, this is how he did it,’” Davidson said. “I want it to kind of look like ‘Oh, how did he do that?’”

Davidson always makes sure any electrical components are completely hidden except for the actual cord and plug-in itself.

“Absolutely you can’t have where it’s showing [the electrical components],” Davidson said. “Yeah, that’s just not acceptable.”

Most of the pieces in Davidson’s projects come from his farm. He also likes to go to thrift stores or an auction to look for pieces that he can use. He looks for pieces that are unique and different, and if he’s at an auction, they have to go for cheap. He likes older farm pieces that are made of brass, or another metal, which can be cleaned to a

shine. He also looks for unique lamp globes.

“Most of the stuff, I make stuff out of, is junk because I don’t pay anything for them,” Davidson said. “If I have $5 - $10 in these things, that’s about

the extent of it.”

Davidson likes to make the lamps and other smaller pieces in his basement during the winter when the unheated shop out at the farm is cold. In the summer, he restores tractors.

His first tractor restoration was an Allis Chalmers WD45. Davidson owns seven or eight antique tractors and has restored 10 to 12.

Davidson has created unique pieces from nonfarm items as well. He broke down a piano and made a clock out of some of the piano keys and with the remainder of the base of the piano created a display area for his duck collection.

He also took the motor off of his father-in-law’s boat and created a table stand with it.

Davidson’s pieces tell a rural story, whether they are made from the stanchions or drinking cups from his old barn or the guts of his childhood tractor. Davidson has mostly been creating for his own enjoyment, or for immediate family and friends.

“I just like looking at it,” Davidson said. “If I got rid of it, then it would be gone. Because I’ve sold some of my antique tractors and sometimes you regret it … all you got is the money and you can’t look at money.”

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Saturday, March 4, 2023 | Country Acres South • Page 9

New parlor keeps Woodards dairying

WINONA – Jim and Michelle Woodard are working to ensure their future.

The Woodards built a milkhouse and parlor and milked their herd in the new setup Jan. 25. The Woodards milk around 100 cows and own two farms for a combined 435 acres near Winona.

The new parlor is important to continuing the Woodards’ farm. Jimmy said without the parlor, they likely would not have been dairying for much longer.

The Woodards installed a double-8 parallel pit parlor with a BouMatic Xpressway indexing system. The Woodards bought the milking equipment from Lester and Donna Banse who were retiring. They transitioned out of a 21-inch, double-8 step-up parlor.

Michelle said increased efficiency and consistency is one of the most important advantages of the parlor, leading to high milk production. The faster

milking setup allows their cows more opportunities to rest and eat and less time spent in the holding pen.

The Woodards’ old milking system had begun to take

up to four to five hours per milking by the time they transitioned out of it. In their new parlor, milking and clean up takes around 2.5 hours.

The goal of the parlor was that one person could easily take care of milking.

“Ideally, we were looking for it to be a one-person operation,” Michelle said. “To position ourselves that if something happened to me, or something happened to him, one of us could easily fill in that void.”

The Woodards also hope that less time spent in the parlor will allow Jim to get into the field more.

“Last year, … I didn’t plant any corn,” Jimmy said. “I baled maybe 100 bales of hay. I didn’t have time to get out there.”

Jimmy said the additional time should yield Woodards page 11

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Ushering in efficiency
PHOTO BY GRACE JEURISSEN Jimmy and Michelle Woodard stand outside their newly constructed parlor Feb. 17 near Winona. The Woodards milk 100 cows. PHOTO BY GRACE JEURISSEN Milking was taking the Woodards four to five hours in their previous step-up parlor. With the new double-8 parallel parlor, the Woodards take 2.5 hours to milk and clean up. PHOTO SUBMITTED A bulldozer breaks ground on the new parlor at the Woodards’ dairy near Winona. The goal with the parlor is to make it manageable for one person to milk the cows.

better crops.

“Maybe we get a little better quality or the crop in on time to get better yield,” Jimmy said.

The updated parlor has been in the process of fruition of a long time.

The Woodards bought the first of their two farms in 1998. They built their 87-stall, sand-bedded freestall barn in 2003. Their old step-up parlor was installed in 2005. Originally, the plan was to remain in that setup for five years. However, the dairy economy of 2009, a stroke Jimmy suffered in 2012 and the building of a 30-stall dry cow freestall barn in 2014 pushed the parlor transition back.

Jimmy said the cows seemed to adjust to the parlor for the first milking.

“Nobody missed a beat; they all milked out the first time,” Jimmy said.

The Woodards had six people to help with the first milking, and the whole process took them two hours. Michelle said the hardest part of that first milking was getting the cows to be used to the windows in the parlor. The Woodards were milking by themselves after only six milkings.

Michelle said they were concerned their somatic cell count might increase because of the unit switch, but their SCC did not go up when they transitioned into the parlor. The Woodards, who ship their milk to Associated Milk Producers Inc., have an SCC around 150,000.

The Woodards hope to increase their herd and milk 150 cows by this fall. They have been building their heifer inventory so they can transition heifers directly into the parlor. Currently, they have around

60 heifers, half of which are bred to calve in. They also plan to buy around 20 cows in the meantime.

The parlor addition features high ceilings which were built to accommodate their future dream of putting in a vertical indexing system. The parlor has wide, gradual, cement steps going down into one side of the pit and metal steps on the other side. Jimmy wanted the cement steps because he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis four years ago. In the front of the parlor, there are several large windows that add natural light.

Comfort wise, the parlor is heated with a radiant heater. Eventually, the in-floor heat will also be ready. The deck and the pit have rubber floor mats.

The Woodards used many contractors for building and installation. Lang’s Dairy Equipment, of Decorah, Iowa, installed the milking system. Jimmy said the last four days before the transition, the dairy equipment installation team was there from 8 a.m. un-

til 11:30 p.m., often with four or five men working during that time to make sure they would hit the Jan. 25 deadline. During the project, they also remodeled their heifer shed by putting in electricity and water.

With multiple contractors working on different areas, there were days when the Woodards’ yard was full.

“I’ve got video – seven trucks in the yard and 12 different workers here for two or three days,” Jim said.

The Woodards said others looking to undertake a similar project should set clear expectations and dates in place when working with contractors.

Michelle said she is happy with the work the contractors did.

“All of our contractors are just amazing,” she said. “They all did a really great job.”

Because they had multiple contractors, Jimmy said he wanted to foster collaboration.

“We had a meeting prior to start,” he said. “I just asked them to please

respect each other’s time because you all have other work to be doing and other jobs. If you work together, it’ll flow better.”

With every building and renovation project, the Woodards said they try to envision how the current project could tie into a future project.

“So, when we built the other barns, we always left rebar stub belts,” Jim said. “So we could tie in and do the next step.”

In the future, the Woodards are considering converting the old barn they milked in into housing for dry cows.

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PHOTOS SUBMITTED Jimmy Woodard helps grandson, Waylon, put his handprint in the wet cement outside of the new parlor. The handprints will be there to withstand the test of time. Michelle Woodard receives help from grandsons, Waylon and Hudson, while placing mats in the parlor. The first milking in the new parlor took place Jan. 25.
page 10

CAountry cres SOUTH

Dear Country Acres Readers,

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