In 2012, Erin Bradt and her husband Ray were wracking their brains trying to figure out how to earn more money from their land, get funds for infrastructure to help their land, and most importantly, how to afford to stay on their property in East Berne, NY. “We had no funds for additional fencing, but without that fencing, we couldn’t get more animals. Without the animals, we couldn’t improve the land as quickly as we’d like, nor could we produce the amounts of meats we needed to be financially sustainable,” says Erin.
When a friend forwarded an announcement to Erin about HMI’s Beginning Women Farmer program, Erin submitted her application, and soon found out she was accepted into the program. “I went to the first class with a negative, defeated and frustrated attitude. I was totally blown away. It was truly a life-changing experience,” says Erin.
“One of the biggest things the class did was to give us permission to think of ourselves, not just as farmers trying to make money,” says Erin. “A lot of our original logjams were mental, and we needed the HMI perspective to clear them.” The classes gave Erin and Ray a sense of control that had been missing from their lives. “The decision-making process was simplified, more black and white. This took a ton of stress off my shoulders,” says Erin.
No stranger to the land, Erin Bradt is a 4th generation farmer. Erin’s parents were dairy farmers, but sold their dairy herd before Erin was born. As a child, Erin spent a lot of time on her aunt and uncle’s dairy farm. “I enjoyed our visits there; watching them milk the cows. They let me help feed calves, and when I was older, I helped milk.”
As a high schooler, Erin and her sister raised Montadale cross market lambs. Erin was also an avid 4-H member from middle school on, and helped to shepherd her sister’s flock when she went to college, before starting out on her own with a few Romney sheep.
When Erin and her husband Ray purchased Helder~Herdwyck Farm, it had been used for growing hay for the last 40 years. “If I had taken Holistic Management classes beforehand, I don’t think we would have purchased this property because we had to put up a new barn and a new house. The old farmhouse had no running water, no heat source, and needed a thorough gutting, new roof, plumbing, heating system, and electric wiring,” says Erin. “It would have been better for us to purchase a farm that already had a usable infrastructure.”
After building a small ranch house, Erin and Ray brought in their first flock of Herdwick crossbred sheep in September of 2012, with the first lambs born in 2013. Intent on multi-species grazing, they’ve added more broilers to go behind the sheep and also added a dairy cow. They now have 138 laying hens and work with a New York restaurant to purchase their Herdwick lamb for the year. They have also added Tamworth hogs and Guinea Fowl, which graze along with the chickens.
As her confidence level grew, Erin quit her part-time state job in 2014, choosing to concentrate on the farm. “Now that I’m not working for the state, I can do more. I want to monitor the pastures and count what’s in there, let it get grazed over, and keep monitoring it and see how it changes.”
So much has changed for Erin and Ray since 2012. In September of 2014, their flock became the first Herdwick-bred sheep to be registered in the United States, with the Natural Colored Wool Growers Association. It’s Erin’s intent to create an American Herdwick Breeder’s Association in 2016.
“I am so thankful for that (Beginning Women Farmers) class, and I encourage any farmer, not just women farmers, to take it,” says Erin. “This has all been very educational and I very much enjoy learning new things. I can’t imagine doing anything different.”
You can also visit Helder~Herdwyck Farm’s website to read more about the land health benefits of Holistic Management on their farm.