Bobcat Equipment Rounds Out the Herd at Blufftop Farm

Published on April 15, 2024

A Wisconsin family moves back to the family farm and restores the land through regenerative farming practices. A single Bobcat skid-steer loader provides all the power they need; their herd of heritage breed cattle handle the rest. Read more about their inspiring journey back to the farm — along with the alpacas, cattle, chickens, cats and dogs — and their grit to make dreams a reality.

There’s something beautiful about making old things new. But, what about making new things old? Julie and Joe Check began a journey of regenerative agriculture that would lead to a lifestyle they never imagined they would live well before retirement. While nature and historic, traditional practices are at the core of “regeneration,” a single Bobcat® machine with versatile attachments play a pivotal role in the success of their farm. 

A Change of Scenery 

The Checks lived in Madison, Wisconsin, raising their two young sons and working traditional, full-time jobs. As Joe’s travel schedule lightened during 2020, they found themselves contemplating their retirement dream early — moving back to the farm Joe grew up on. Annabelle, Joe’s mom, 87 at the time, still lived on the farm, but the land had been leased for almost 25 years since Joe’s dad’s passing. 

“We were living in Madison, and both working full-time in sales,” Julie says. “When we had the opportunity to work from home, we both looked at each other, and just kind of thought, ‘Huh, we really could move back to the farm.’ Joe’s mom turned 90 in 2023, we had two young boys, and we found ourselves speeding up our retirement dream to give the boys a life on the farm and a close relationship to their grandparents.” 

The property, nestled in the western Wisconsin bluffs, would gain the name “Blufftop Farm” when the Checks arrived. They envisioned it could be a place for visitors to enjoy nature, interact with unique animals, have fun and relax.   

 

The boys really inspired us to take on the challenge of regenerative farming. You look at your kids and you want to leave the land better for them than what you came to.

Julie Check 

Blufftop Farm

Years of neglect left the farm rundown and overgrown. The Checks knew they had serious work to do. Before they got too bogged down with the heavy lifting, they brought some new life to the property. 

One of Joe and Julie’s earliest dates might have been a prediction of their future as they stumbled into an alpaca conference. It made for a funny, memorable story at the time, but all along they knew the quirky animal would one day be a part of their future. Years later, when they gathered inventory of all the things to do to refresh the farm, bringing an alpaca herd to the property was at the top of the list.  

Making New Things Old  

As they considered how to tackle the overgrown fields, woods and pastures, rather than turning immediately to modern equipment, they used one of nature’s bulldozers: heritage cattle. The Checks grew their animal fleet and purchased herds of Scottish Highland and Galloway cattle, both hearty heritage breeds that eat brush most cattle don’t. The cattle were brought to Blufftop Farm and got to work clearing brush throughout the property.  

As the Checks explored farming practices, they watched a documentary that ignited their passion for regenerative agriculture. 

“The whole purpose of regenerative agriculture is to bring things back to nature,” Joe says. “So, if you think about how a long time ago the Great Plains were full of animals, especially buffalo, that’s similar to what we are trying to recreate.” 

The animals regenerate the soil by fertilizing with their manure, which they pack into the soil as they move to another area. The goal is to avoid chemical fertilizers while enhancing the soil. 

The Checks began converting 50 acres of the 170 tillable acres on the property to grazing pastures. The cattle cleared what they would eat, but the Checks knew they needed to mix modern technology with historic practices to reach their goals.  

One Tool Fits All 

Joe and his mom, Annabelle, had a history of using Bobcat machines before the land was leased. After renting Bobcat equipment for one-off projects on the farm, Joe and Julie decided to invest in their own machine.  

The 2014 Bobcat S770 compact skid-steer loader provides all the Checks’ need in one machine. With just over 2,000 working hours logged to it, the lightly used machine is getting a second life on Blufftop Farm. Using versatile attachments, like pallet forks, the Checks accomplish farm chores faster. 

“We’re using old-school tactics that were left behind when farming revolutionized to use modern equipment,” Joe says. “We feel like we’re going back in time. We’re taking animals out of barns and putting them to use on the land.” 

The animals on Blufftop Farm share the work, making the Checks’ need for equipment simple.  

“Because of everything we do with the animals, we really only need our Bobcat machine,” Joe says. “Instead of having this whole pile of different equipment, we’re able to keep it really focused and let one piece of equipment take the brunt of the work.” 

Their Bobcat skid-steer loader is easy for everyone to operate. As Joe’s travel schedule resumed, Julie didn’t want to see the pace of progress on the farm slow. She became more comfortable operating it the more practice she had. She appreciated having Joe as a teacher to answer her questions as she got used to operating the machine.  

At their previous home in Madison, Julie was proud to be the household lawn and garden expert. On Blufftop Farm, Julie quickly became the go-to person to use the equipment — Joe even began calling her “the operator of the Bobcat equipment.” 

As Julie shares her positive experience driving the Bobcat skid-steer loader, Joe jokes, “I just know if there’s a job where we’re cleaning up an area and one person is in the machine and one person is out shoveling or gathering brush, I’m the one out.”   

The machine is so comfortable and intuitive, that even Grandma Annabelle operates it when needed. At 90 years old, there’s not much that Annabelle hasn’t done. Using the instruction manual, she taught herself to operate Bobcat machines earlier in life while farming with her husband, and occasionally helps around the property.  

Because of everything we do with the animals, we really only need our Bobcat machine. Instead of having this whole pile of different equipment, we’re able to keep it really focused and let one piece of equipment take the brunt of the work.

Joe Check

Blufftop Farm

Looking to the Future 

By combining old practices with modern technology, Joe and Julie are continuing to reach their dream of opening Blufftop Farm to the public. They envision opening their own farm store to sell goods they currently take to farmer’s markets, as well as create paths throughout the property to see animals and hike alongside their alpacas. Above all, though, Joe and Julie are motivated by their two sons — Logan and Liam.  

“The boys really inspired us to take on the challenge of regenerative farming,” Julie says. “You look at your kids and you want to leave the land better for them than what you came to, so that’s another huge part of our goals here. Anything that runs off our land goes to the Mississippi, which eventually gets to the ocean. We want our boys to see how what we do has ripple effects and to teach them how we can do our part to help nurture the land around us.” 

It feels surreal for Joe and Julie to be living this farm-filled life before their boys even reached middle school. Surrounded by their herds of cattle, alpacas, goats, chickens, dogs and cats, they couldn’t be more grateful they took the leap.  

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