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Grower Profile – Nord Lake Rabbitry - MessAge Media: Features

Grower Profile – Nord Lake Rabbitry

Midge Johnson at Nord Lake Rabbitry

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Posted: Friday, August 10, 2018 5:00 am

Audrey “Midge” Johnson and her husband, Terry, farm 11 acres about four miles southeast of Aitkin.

Johnson raises rabbits for meat and fur and is an avid historical re-enactor. Husband Terry is an electrician who competes in giant pumpkin-growing competitions. Midge also has a framing business in Aitkin, called Nord Lake Reflections.

Raising rabbits has been a passion since 1980. Johnson raises several breeds of rabbits, partly because she’s always looking for hardier, more productive rabbits, but also she loves the colored furs and has markets for them online to buyers around the country, and even internationally. The Johnsons farm their own 11 acres plus some adjacent acreage belonging to Terry’s brother, Keith Johnson.

Rotational grazing

Midge espouses a sustainable farming model that includes rotational grazing of rabbits on pasture and garden plots; her crops follow the rabbits and benefit from the phenomenal fertility delivered by the rabbit manure.

“I’ve been working to develop more humane methods of raising rabbits that recognize the animals’ natural behavior. I try to keep them comfortable and stress free throughout their lives,” said Johnson, “I also wanted to make use of the abundant pasture that was available to me here. Rabbit manure is a 1-1-1 fertilizer; perfectly balanced, so that it can go directly on the crops without having to compost it first.”

Crops that follow the rabbit cages include forage crops and vegetables. Squash and pumpkins of many varieties thrive at the Johnson farm.

New and improved

The farm was originally a mink farm. When Midge began raising rabbits she made use of the mink cages that had been left behind, but over time she has adapted the cage designs to better serve her purposes, and now mostly only uses the mink cages as backups. She has designed her own cages that are around 3 by 8 feet, and have a curved top to shed snow. The newer cages are much lighter, an important attribute because they are moved twice a day onto fresh grass. Johnson takes pains to keep her rabbits clean and dry. Urine or grass-stained pelts have a greatly diminished value as furs. The furs are fleshed and tanned at the farm; an estimated 1,800 hides have been hand-processed that way.

Johnson supplements her rabbits’ pasture with a variety of seeds, oats, and hay, especially during the winter. Rabbits are hardy creatures, but they do need energy to keep them warm in the cold weather, especially when they are raising bunnies.

Aitkin Farmers’ Market

The Aitkin Farmers’ Market season is underway in Aitkin. The Aitkin area is fortunate to be served by more than two dozen farmers, ranchers, and growers, many of whom are vendors at the Aitkin Farmers’ Market located at the historic Butler Building. This is the fourth  in a series of grower profiles that will provide an insight into the lives of the people whose mission is to grow food for the people of Aitkin County. These growers will talk about

why they do what they do, what their plans are for the 2018 growing season and beyond, how they got to where they are today, and what their families are like. Every farm is different, and there are as many different ways of farming as there are farmers.

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