Both growing up on dairy farms, Kara and Ryan Olson always saw themselves raising their family on a farm of their own.
“When we knew dairy farming wasn’t right for us, we started raising a few pigs and beef cattle for ourselves, family, and friends,” Kara said. “Then when we had kids, we wanted to build something bigger to pass along.”
Shortly after their son Reid was born, they branded their livestock hobby as Little Farmer Meats and started posting ads on Facebook, Craigslist, and the like.
As word-of-mouth demand grew, they added to their herd, expanding into broilers and laying hens. And soon after they also added their daughter, Kayleigh.
As much as the livestock business was born in order to leave a legacy, it is also about the lifestyle that growing up with farm animals provides for children.
“Kayleigh loves the chickens,” Kara says. The kids help with daily chores as much as possible, even if it means a few eggs never make it out of the coop.
“Reid takes his job of naming and feeding the calves very seriously, and he spends all his free time climbing trees in the pasture,” she adds.
The children also understand the animals are raised for meat. “They love steak,” says Ryan, who is mastering the grill and smoker. “Only kids who grow up with it love it like they already do at age three and five.”
By 2020, Olsons had moved to a different farmstead outside Watertown, Wis., with a bigger house and better buildings and pasture for their animals. This luckily positioned them well to handle the overnight increase in demand.
Their business nearly tripled because of it. Last year, they raised about 55 steers, 90 pigs, and 400 broilers, and their 80 layers produced six to seven dozen eggs a day.
Kara and Ryan are happy with the growth they’ve had so far and the customer base they have developed with their family-raised, local meat branding of Little Farmer Meats.
In addition to direct sales, Olsons also sell some of their ground beef to a nearby restaurant that has a weekly burger special. “The customers say it’s the best burger around,” Ryan says.
“We’ve started raising purebred red Wagyu along with the Angus, which I like because they have a good temperament and are built more like traditional beef cattle than the black Wagyu. I would like to build up that market more now that our herd is established,” says Ryan.
The next step in their business is to also build more efficiencies. “It will always be a nights-and-weekends job for us so we can make it what we want it to be. And I’d like it to be more organized,” says Kara. Her day job is to oversee economic development projects for the Wisconsin Department of Ag, and Ryan runs a custom cropping business and milks at the neighboring dairy.
Their butcher—who they must schedule with at least 18 months out—recently forced some efficiencies in Olsons’ business model because of its own changes.
“We had been selling meat bundles and individual cuts, but our butcher changed from state inspected to custom exempt. That meant we could only sell quarter, half, and whole animals,” said Ryan. “This was really a good thing because we could stop spending all our time making deliveries.
” Having a relationship with a trusted butcher is crucial for the direct-to-consumer meat market, so the Olsons were willing to make this change to stay with their butcher, even without the added efficiencies. ‡