Farmer Profile: Leslie Svacina of Cylon Rolling Acres

Enjoy this Q&A interview with farmer Leslie Svacina, owner of Cylon Rolling Acres -- producing meat goats and maple syrup near Deer Park, Wisconsin. 1.     Tell us about your farm!

I farm in northwestern Wisconsin, about 45 minutes east of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. Our farm is 140 acres, which is partially wooded. We raise goats on pasture for meat and also harvest maple sap. I farm full time, while my husband works off the farm for an agricultural company. We purchased our farm in 2011 and I transitioned out of my full time off-farm job to focus on the farm in 2015. The farm was a retired dairy and beef farm. While there were a lot of outbuildings on the acreage, we had do a lot to get the farm up to operation, including rebuilding a house, updating barns, and putting in new fencing.

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Currently I own about 70 goats, including young stock. I raise Boer-Kiko cross meat goats and am in the process of growing my herd. While both are strong meat breeds, the Kiko is well known for its hardiness on pasture.

Now that there are more goat dairy farms in my area, the opportunity came up to raise dairy buck kids for meat. Since last winter I’ve been raising a small group of these goats as a trial. This winter I’m planning to purchase a larger group.

All of our goats are raised on pasture and are fed a forage-based diet. We currently have about 20 acres in pasture and practice rotational grazing. Our donkey, Bruno, and Great Pyrenees [dog], Ruby, serve as livestock guardian animals and live with our herd fulltime. We also make our own hay for winter feeding.

Our goat meat has played a small part in helping families in the Twin Cities celebrate cultural holidays and family gatherings. As the farm has grown, I’m now working on marketing our goat meat as grass-fed with regional wholesalers, to meet the local and grass-fed market with restaurants and consumers in our area, including the Twin Cities.

2.     How did you come to farming as a career?

While I grew up in a rural area, surrounded by farms, my family didn’t have any formal connections to agriculture. I decided to take a high school agricultural education course and join FFA. I fell in love with agriculture. I graduated from UW-River Falls with a degree in agricultural marketing communications, went on to work in agricultural communications for an ag cooperative, and later worked in education at the university level and with a nonprofit. My husband grew up on a dairy farm and also works in agriculture. We always knew we wanted to have our own land, but decided to actually make it into something -- our own farm and business. We decided on goats because of the market opportunity and the ease of managing the animals on my own.

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3. What do you love most about farming, and what are your biggest challenges?

I love having something that’s our own, that we created and that is continuing to grow. You could say it’s the spirit of entrepreneurship. One of the biggest challenges is being patient. Starting from scratch takes time: time to save to purchase land, time to work toward goals, time to spread out start-up expenses, time to see results, and so on. But now that we’ve been at it for several years, it’s exciting to see how far we’ve come, even though I’m still not quite to the scale I’m working toward.

Another issue that has been more of a hurdle, rather than a challenge, is being the farmer in our family, who happens to be female. While the farm is my business, my husband helps out with farm work and is a sounding board on business decisions. Initially, many of the places or agencies I did business with assumed my husband was the farmer and the decision-maker. With time, that assumption has changed as I’ve built relationships with those individuals. However, I’ve realized there is a subtle, often unintentional bias that still exists towards women in farming.

3.     What are your goals for the farm?

My overall goal for the farm is to raise quality, grass-fed meat goats to meet the needs of both the cultural and local foods markets, while managing our land responsibly.

Some of my current goals include:

  • Expanding my Boer-Kiko herd to 60 breeding does
  • Building relationships with wholesalers to sell our grass-fed meat
  • Continuing to improve the quality of our pastures
  • Being a leader in meat-goat farming in Wisconsin

Assisting with kidding.

4.     Who are your mentors, and why? What other resources do you find most useful?

Gary Meyer and Rose Christianson, another farming couple, helped us get started -- selling me our start-up herd, answering questions, and sharing resources as we’ve gotten started.

Some of my go-to resources include:

  • Annie’s Project – I participated in this program several years ago and it was very helpful  getting me connected with resources as a beginning female farmer and networking with other farmers
  • GrassWorks and regional grazing networks
  • OnPasture.com – online grazing publication
  • USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) – technical assistance with setting up a grazing system and providing grazing resources (local service centers serving all US counties)
  • Meeting other farmers who either raise goats or are grazers to learn how they manage their farms
  • Wisconsin Meat Goat Producers Network – informal farmer organization that I coordinate

6. Anything you'd like to add?

Getting started as a first-generation farmer has been a lot of work: acquiring land, getting equipment and facilities in working order, working long hours, and being extra mindful of our family and farm budgets. It’s a huge investment, but it’s worth it -- especially now that I’m starting to see the results of our work.