Local Flavor: Hidden-Vue Farm
Down a short gravel drive just off the Marengo River, you’ll find Hidden-Vue Farm, a working family farm that has supported four generations. David Nortunen, along with his wife Jennifer and three children (Mia, Kieren, and Matthew), operates the farm that his family has worked for over 100 years. Just 12 miles south of Ashland, Hidden-Vue currently produces grass-fed beef for the local market.
Past generations raised dairy cattle the traditional way on this farm. If you duck your head into the barn today though, you’ll notice it is empty. When David started raising beef cattle, he let the animals stay inside. However, even with good ventilation, he found the cattle would end up with runny noses and eyes within hours of entering the barn. Now, he pastures his animals full-time and he has seen increased health and hardiness. He still offers shelter to young calves, but most of them prefer to be outdoors.
The farm’s 200 head of Devon-cross cattle are completely grass-fed. With 350 acres in pasture, David manages the land with high density grazing techniques. High density grazing calls for quick, intense pasturing of the cattle that leaves the plants grazed or trampled and then given a long rest period to fully recuperate.
David started experimenting with high density grazing about a decade ago. After the first three years, he considered abandoning the practice because he was not seeing results. After reading more about high density grazing techniques, he made adjustments to his rotation (watching the fields for signs of over-grazing and leaving more litter on the ground). Now, after changing his approach, his pastures show the effects of his efforts. Hidden-Vue’s fields are mostly weed-free; they are filled with the grasses, clovers, and other forages cattle like to eat.
The amazing thing about these lush pastures is that they are self-sown. David tried several different techniques to seed his fields, including frost seeding and using a no till drill, but wasn’t satisfied with the results and didn’t like the cost and time required. Now, he relies on the cattle to trample seeds onto the ground. Weeds seldom get a chance to take hold in a pasture because they are crowded out by the healthy, beneficial plants and the layer of litter on the ground.
Besides cattle, the Nortunen family also raises St. Croix hair sheep. Hair sheep do not have wool and they shed their heavy hair coat naturally each spring so they do not require shearing. David’s kids started raising the sheep as a way to learn more about genetics.
Lou, the guard donkey, watches over the small flock, keeping an eye out for predators. He is not the only donkey at Hidden-Vue Farm. Badonkadonk watches over the cattle in the pasture. Guard donkeys offer an advantage over dogs because they do not require training or special food. Instead, donkeys protect their charges on instinct, and ward off unwanted visitors with their powerful kicks and teeth. Badonkadonk is so dedicated to his herd mates that he sometimes accompanies one to the water cistern and shepherds the cattle back to the herd.
When asked about the future of his farm, David talks about expanding his herd, increasing his sales, and continuing his breeding work. He hopes to continue work on the genetics of his herd to breed cattle that work well to convert grass into healthy, high-quality meat. In many ways, he plans to continue his family tradition of making a living off the land by taking old farming techniques into the future.