Christie and Dean Dieringer and their four children delight in the work and the rewards of their rural Port Washington farm that produces most of the food they eat
When Christie and Dean Dieringer decided three-and-a-half years ago to leave their rental property in Belgium and buy a five-acre farm in the Town of Port Washington, they weren’t quite sure what to expect.
The couple was working at Bernie’s Fine Meats in Port Washington at the time, Dean as a meat cutter and Christie doing just about everything else at the shop.
They also had four kids, three of whom were in middle school or younger.
“I grew up on a dairy farm and have lived out in the country basically my whole life and it had taken a toll on me,” Dean said. “I thought I’d just work at Bernie’s and be a butcher. I guess I just missed it after awhile.”
The Dieringers moved to the country to live as close to the earth as possible.
They currently raise 122 chickens — 42 for their eggs and 80 for their meat — three turkeys, six goats, 13 lambs, seven ewes and a ram on their Highway KK farm.
The meat chickens are purchased from a feed mill when they’re a day or two old and raised on the Dieringer farm for about two months.
Then they are taken to Quality Cut Meats in Cascade, where they are butchered in the state-sanctioned shop and sold to Bernie’s.
“It gives us a sense of pride knowing what goes into the meat,” Christie said, noting they have a waiting list of people who want to buy their chickens. “We don’t use organic feed, but we know what’s going into it.”
The Dieringers buy 500 pounds of feed every two weeks for the sheep and goats. The chickens get five 50-pound bags of feed per week from Adell Co-Op.
“It’s a little scary to think about all the food we buy, but the kids love working with the animals,” Christie said. “They learn the responsibility of having to feed them.”
The Dieringers’ oldest child, Brooke, is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, studying animal science with an emphasis on meat science and livestock. She has aspirations of becoming a meat inspector or studying the genetics of animals, her mother said.
Olivia, 16, works at Richison Dairy in the Town of Belgium. She would like to become a wildlife biologist.
Zachary, 14, and Amanda, 12, work at their uncle’s farm in the Town of Fredonia.
“The kids learn how to work hard and really enjoy farming,” Christie said.
“Zachary is basically his uncle’s right hand man.”
The children are members of the Holy Cross 4-H Club and participate in sheep and goat projects.
Steve Bennett, owner of Bernie’s, usually buys one of the children’s sheep at the fair, Christie said.
“I consider Steve and (his wife) Sandy part of our family,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun working there.”
The Dieringers also have a 25-by-40-foot pesticide-free vegetable garden and strawberry patch, where they grow asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, onions, kohlrabi, cabbage, carrots, peas, green beans, eggplant, horseradish, lettuce, zucchini and garlic.
They also harvest wild asparagus and are planning to make wine from the six grapevines they have.
“There’s never a dull moment,” Christie said. “We get up in the morning, do chores, take the kids to school and then go to work. Then I come home and the kids do their afternoon chores and I take them to their jobs.
“Then I’ll go work with the chickens and do some gardening, weeding or cut the grass. It’s busy from sunup to sundown in the summer.”
Christie is also an accomplished canner, preserving everything from salsa and tomato juice to sauerkraut and green beans.
Even in the winter, the family manages to stay busy. November and December are busy months at Bernie’s with plenty of holiday orders to fill. In February or March, the ewes give birth to lambs.
The Dieringers don’t hire much outside help, save for a couple friends and a brother-in-law who come a few times a year to give them a night or two off.
“We have a baby monitor in the house to hear what’s going on in the barn,” Christie said. “We do all the feeding of the animals, so we’re pretty busy.”
When the children eventually grow up and leave, the couple plans to keep the farm going.
“If we didn’t have animals, what would we do?” Christie asked. “We really enjoy doing it because you never know what a day or season will bring.”
Image information: Caring for sheep, goats and chickens are just some of the myriad tasks on the Dieringer farm. Photo by Sam Arendt