Comprising about 387 acres in central Missouri, WitnessTree is strategically located between the state capital of Jefferson City and metropolitan St. Louis. The Missouri river lies just north, and Lake of the Ozarks is only 1 1/2 hours to the southwest. This is also the heart of Missouri wine country, with over a dozen wineries less than a 30-minute drive from the farm. Having close to 200 acres in woods, 30 acres in crop bottomland, and the balance in pasture and hayfields, the goal of WitnessTree is self-sufficiency using heritage breeds and old-style farming and homesteading skills, with the future addition of alternative energy sources such as windpower and solar.
With the sole exceptions of our mini-mule Spanky, and Percheron draft mules Minnie & Maggie (mules are hybrids), no hybrid or genetically-altered anything is used here, so the garden and crops are grown, without pesticides, from open-pollinated and heirloom seeds. We are also fortunate to have a prairie meadow that has never seen the plow. It has, at last count, over 350 species of native wildflowers and plants, and is listed as a prairie remnant site with the Shaw Nature Reserve, a division of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
When we acquired the farm in 2001, it had been idle and untouched for 30 years. In fact, there were still hats and jackets hanging on the sunporch and dishes setting on the table, as if someone had just stepped out. The original structure is a 2-story log cabin, circa mid-1800's, and the rest of the house was built around it sometime in the 1900's. We are now working to restore the house, having spent most of the first 4 years cleaning out and repairing the barns & outbuildings, brushhogging the overgrown fields, putting up new fencing & shelters, and making numerous other improvements to the outside. All the while we have been adding to our heritage breeds, which began back in 1995 with poultry (standard Black Minorca and Dark Cornish chickens, Blue Slate turkeys, and Black Cayuga ducks), and now also includes Arapawa Island goats, Brabant Belgian draft horses, Jacob 4-Horned sheep, and of course, our wonderful Randall cattle.
After speaking with Cynthia Creech periodically (she might say persistently) and being on a waiting list for 5 years, she called one day to tell us that our wait was over, and that she knew of Randalls (finally) for sale. So thanks to Cynthia, Phil Lang, and Merck Forest, our herd of 5 cows, a bull, and two bull calves arrived by truck & trailer from Vermont and Connecticut. Despite the heat and humidity that make up summers in Missouri, the Randalls have adjusted quite well and are thriving in all of our four seasons.
In addition to our rare breeds, we also have India blue peacocks, guineas, an emu, a goose, three saddle and driving horses, four guardian dogs, many cats and a Zebra finch. We are Life members of Tillers International, Seed Savers Exchange, The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and the Missouri Prairie Foundation. I am a member of the Rural Missouri Spinners and Weavers, the National Home Gardening Club, and the North American Butterfly Association; am a licensed Realtor, and a professional singer/musician. Dennis is a certified welder and general contractor whose specialty is passive solar construction.
Every year on the first weekend in October, we host the "Mid-Missouri Horse, Mule, & Ox Farming and Historical Crafts Days" on our farm. 2008 will be the 12th year for the event, and the 8th year it has been held here at WitnessTree. It is a showcase for the demonstration of heritage crafts and animal-powered farming skills. We have had as many as 20-plus draft teams working in the field at once, and have some of our rare livestock on display then as well. One of our Randall cows, Dianna, gave spectators milking demonstrations at a previous year's event, and another, Blueberry, actually presented us with a new calf WHILE ON DISPLAY at another year's event. We milk three of our cows regularly after they freshen, and what milk we don't use ourselves is sold to very enthusiastic customers. See more about milking at WitnessTree Farm here.
We are also looking to utilize the Randall boys as oxen to provide additional animal power on the farm. It is truly a delight to be able to promote the qualities of the Randalls and other rare and heritage breeds and plant varieties in the hopes of their continued conservation among future generations of the farming community.