No kidding: The farm that 4-H built
Farming has always been in the blood of Ray and Lisa Cochran, operators of the Red Hen Ranch north of Bluegrass.
Ray grew up on a dairy farm, while Lisa can recall farrowing pigs at age 5.
While farming wasn't always a big part of their lives, it made a return to their lives after buying their current property in 1993 on Hwy 23 north of Bluegrass. The farm started out as a way to get their girls involved in 4-H. A goat here, a chicken there. And the three girls did very well. Now, with their girls all grown, ( Madigan, 24, Mackenzie, 23, and Meredith, 21) it's morphed into a farming operation that has helped many youth get a feel for animal husbandry.
"I can't imagine not having it," Lisa said of the Red Hen Ranch, named after the Little Red Hen story and the fact that Lisa is a red head.
The Cochrans started with hobby-type animals including llamas, pigeons, pigs and an emu and have slowly transitioned to more traditional stock. In recent years the family has grown to their current operation which includes about 70 head of commercial sheep and registered Boer goats.
The Cochrans sell about two-thirds of their lamb and kid crop to market and the rest are either sold as registered breeding stock or fed out for private sales. Ray and Lisa also raise exhibition poultry. And each summer tourists stop by looking for a butcher chicken, eggs or just to take a closer look at the farm animals.
"They see animals and it is not unusual for people to ask if they can just look around," Lisa said of traffic driving to and from the lakes. She gets a kick out of it when people ask, "Is this all you do for a living?"
While caring for the animals and the property is a full time job, Lisa continues to work part time as a custodian at the Verndale School and Ray works full time at Lund Boats. Ray's gone most of the day, so Lisa does much of the farming including helping the animals when it's lambing and kidding season, constantly trying to keep the goats in their pasture and scooping up eggs from the layer hens on a daily basis.
When they were younger, the Cochran's girls helped with the assortment of tasks required on the farm and they participated in various 4-H programs. Even though their daughters are now 4-H alumni, Ray and Lisa continue to support 4-H. Many of their birds or other animals are used by 4-H members in their projects.
"Kids come from all over," Lisa said. She was proud about a couple youth that recently showed some of their poultry at the Hubbard County Fair and earned trips to the State Fair for the first time.
"It's fun to see that," Lisa said.
The farm grew exponentially from that involvement in 4-H.
"In a way, we are the farm that 4-H built," Lisa said.
The Cochrans still help at the Pride Auction and recently started Llama judging at area county fairs. Ray is certified as a Minnesota poultry testing agent and Lisa is a member of the American Boer Goat Association. They both served on the Wadena County Fair Board, Ray for six years and Lisa for two. Lisa also served a term on the Wadena County Extension Committee.
"I don't think you can really farm if you don't enjoy it," Lisa said. "The sacrifice is there, but it's a way of life."
"It is a challenge to keep up with the day to day sometimes, along with our off the farm jobs, but it has been a wonderful place to raise our family and we thank God for good and helpful neighbors, supportive ag businesses and the opportunity we have had to raise a farm and a family here in Wadena County."
When asked why they continue to grow their herd, it was clear they both enjoy seeing how they can improve their animals and they have a goal of always bettering their outcomes.
"You always want to see what's over that hill," Ray said of the work they do to improve their operation.
And with time they have both grown knowledgeable about how to care for animals that not many others in the area actually raise.
"It takes a long time to feel like you know what's going on," Lisa said. Now that they have figured out a lot of things that don't work, they figure they might as well keep it up and share the knowledge with others.
Farm Family of the Year
The Cochrans joined 81 families from throughout Minnesota being honored as 2018 Farm Family of the Year by the University of Minnesota. They are the 2018 Wadena County Farm Family of the Year.
The farm families were recognized in ceremonies Aug. 9, at the annual Minnesota Farmfest on the Gilfillan Estate near Redwood Falls. The families were chosen by local University of Minnesota Extension committees based on their demonstrated commitment to enhancing and supporting agriculture.
"The University of Minnesota takes pride in honoring these families. The farm families receiving this year's honors exemplify what makes Minnesota agriculture strong," Extension Dean Bev Durgan said. "They bring innovation, science and hard work to farming. They care greatly about the land and animals and delivering quality products to consumers worldwide."
The Cochrans said they are humbled by the recognition.
"We are a small, very humble farm," Lisa said. "We feel undeserving."
Lisa noted the best part about farming has been seeing others benefit from the farm, whether its a youth showing at the county fair or city folks learning a thing or two about where food comes from.