Al and Erika VanRyzin raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) sheep, pigs and beef cattle outdoors on pasture at Dancing Frog Farm in Fremont, Wisconsin.
“We both grew up with nearly one of everything from the pet store and gardened every patch of ground our parents let us turn over,” Erika laughs. “As young adults, we became very involved in the natural health field and began to learn how to use food and herbs as a core to healing neurological conditions. So we came to farming with ‘no bad ideas to unlearn,’ a goal to protect nature and a completely unique perspective of what our intentions were.”
After carefully locating the right property, the couple purchased 60 acres of land adjacent to an area of marshland in the watershed of the Wolf River. 30 acres of the property is planted in a highly biodiverse pasture for rotational grazing, with deep-rooting plants like plantain, chicory, four species of clover and five species of grass and many other forbs. “When we purchased the farm, the soil in our back pastures was crop rotated for decades. It was tired, slightly sandy loam with no organic matter,” Erika says. “Now it is flourishing under our gentle, unforced care.”
The Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW cattle at Dancing Frog Farm are American British White Park cattle. “In all our research selecting breeds to try on our farm, we kept our focus on calm temperament, hardiness, self-birthing, good mothering without human intervention and ability to thrive on grazing alone,” Allan says. Dancing Frog Farm is also home to a small flock of Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW Katahdin sheep, a hair sheep breed that doesn’t require annual shearing, has good parasite resistance and is known to do well on grass alone. In addition to being Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW, the sheep and beef cattle at Dancing Frog Farm are Certified Grassfed by AGW, the first—and only—food label in the U.S. and Canada that guarantees food products come from animals fed a 100 percent grass and forage diet, and raised entirely outdoors on pasture or range.
The VanRyzins also raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW Kune Kune pigs at Dancing Frog Farm. “We chose the Kune Kune breed for our pigs because of their temperament and their ability to graze grass and thrive in low-input, pasture-based systems,” Allan says.
Nutrition is the most important aspect of the animal husbandry practices at Dancing Frog Farm. “Nutrition for the animals directly transfers to help humans heal,” Erika says. “We follow and observe nature, it is the wisest teacher. We live as a part of the land and ecosystem, sharing with the rest of life. We protect the earth and create a shared habitat for wildlife. And we are always looking to better our soil, soil biology and diversity of plants.”
Dancing Frog Farm decided to pursue Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW certification because they believed the program was a good fit for their high-welfare, sustainable farming practices: “A Greener World matched our core values, beliefs and farming style. We also felt with the no cost certificate we were finding people truly looking to promote animal welfare. Any money that we would have used to pay a certification cost we were able to direct towards improvements for the animals instead.”
The VanRyzin’s 12-year old son, Shen, is also very involved with the farm and the choices that are made. “Shen particularly likes working with the young animals and helping them to feel comfortable around people. But not through catching and ‘taming’ but by walking, sitting and being a calm presence around them,” Erika says. The VanRyzin’s future plans at Dancing Frog Farm include creating a hands-on direct experience and education to consumers and farmers seeking alternative ways to farm and feed themselves. “We don’t want an empire, we don’t want to be huge,” Erika says. “We just want a place where animals, our family and community can come together to find joy. A place for our son to grow into and us to farm.”
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pork and Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW, Certified Grassfed by AGW lamb and beef from Dancing Frog Farm is available direct from the farm, and by delivery within a 30-mile radius of the farm. For more information about Dancing Frog Farm, visit dancingfrogfarm.net or follow the farm on Facebook at facebook.com/dancingfrogfarm. Contact Dancing Frog Farm at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 920-836-2122.