COLFAX — Chad Berge grew up around Scottish Highland cattle. So when a job opportunity closer to his childhood home coincided with the timing of his father’s herd being sold, Chad and his wife, Holly, jumped at the opportunity and bought the herd from his father.
In early 2014, Chad and Holly moved back to Colfax from northwestern Minnesota and took over Berge’s Beef, a third-generation family farm where they now raise grass-fed Scottish Highland beef cattle.
“Chad always knew that he wanted to move back to the area and farm,” Holly said. “The timing just worked out really well. Chad’s dad was selling what he had when we were ready to move back.”
Chad’s father, Mark, started the herd with seven Scottish Highlanders in 1999 after getting out of dairy farming a couple years earlier.
“I got up to 26 or 27,” Mark said. “Before Chad and Holly came back, I decided I didn’t want to get that big.”
At that point, Mark started to sell off the herd. He had sold about a dozen Highlanders before Chad and Holly decided to move back to Wisconsin and buy the remainder of the herd. When they moved back, Mark sold the remaining 15 to Chad.
The cattle are raised on Chad’s parents’ 160-acre farm, where they are rotationally grazed on 50 acres of pasture. Chad crops another 40 acres in hay, and the remaining 70 acres on the property are a mix of woodland and in a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.
The herd is now up to 35 animals, but Chad said he would like to grow to the point of having about one cow-calf pair or one steer per acre.
“This is really good ground out here,” Chad said. “Type of soil makes a huge difference when you’re grazing. You have to be really doing intensive grazing to have one head per acre, whereas if we were on sandier ground, we might be looking at 2 to 3 acres.”
The animals are rotationally grazed on about 3 acres at a time for about two days.
“They’re spoiled,” Chad said. “You go any longer than that, and they’re ready to go.”
Chad uses a grass/alfalfa mix for hay and makes enough in large square bales to sell a little to area farmers.
“I like the orchard grass, just because it’s soft, and if you put up good quality, they don’t waste any of it,” Chad said. “If you have pure alfalfa, it’s more protein and higher in quality, but they will waste more.”
Chad said it takes about 30 months to raise a Scottish Highland calf to be ready for finishing. Calving is done in April or early May. Chad is currently crossbreeding with a Red Angus/Devon mix bull for a generation to try to add genetics to help the cattle gain weight a little quicker before going back to one of his Scottish Highland bulls.
“The plan now is to keep it a closed herd and grow with the animals we have now. It’s more cost-effective to do that and go slower,” Chad said. “I have a couple nice-looking bull calves now, so we will keep one of them for a future bull.”
Butchering is done in the spring and again in the fall, and between two and four animals have been finished at a time.
“It seems to sell faster in the fall than in the spring. I think people are making heartier meals,” Holly said. “But we definitely have a lot of interest and repeat customers getting quarters every spring and fall.”
Berge’s Beef if available directly from the farm and at Just Local Food Co-op in Eau Claire.
“With their long hair, they’re insulated so they don’t get as thick of a fat layer,” Chad said. “They don’t burn fat; they keep warm from their hair, so that translates into a leaner meat.”
“From an eater’s standpoint, (the Scottish Highlanders) tend to be very lean, but they have good, rich, beefy flavor,” said Nik Novak, meat buyer at Just Local Food Co-op. “It’s very tender for a grass-fed steak.
“Plus, they don’t use antibiotics, no synthetic growth hormones, and they abide by and exceed organic practices and standards, but they don’t pay the extra price to get organic certification, which we then don’t have to pass on to the customers, so it keeps it a bit cheaper.”
Berge’s Beef is located just north of Highway 40 between Colfax and Bloomer. For now, Chad, Holly and their daughter, Aubrey, live off the farm in Colfax, but they would like to find property near the farm to live on and expand the herd.
“His parents help out quite a bit, especially during the winter,” Holly said. “And it makes it much easier that the cattle are here vs. just renting land somewhere. But we’d really like to get our own piece of land.
“We’ve been looking for our own farm, but we want to be close to the farm here. He would always farm this. He would never give this up.”