If you believe the common conceptions that young people are afraid of hard work and have no interest in agriculture these days, you haven’t met the Wilcher boys.
Wyatt, 16, and Dakota, 15, have been raising critters for years and have turned their hobby into a viable business they dubbed Budget Barn Farm, located at their home off Nordale Road. It all began because their father, Mike, didn’t want his sons to “graduate high school without having worked a day in their lives and I wanted them to know where food comes from.”
Mike grew up on a farm and had some firsthand knowledge so he and his wife, Chris, enrolled the boys in 4-H. At first they had their own club, “Pigs and Stuff,” but eventually they joined the Country Meadows club which is now called Far North Farmers. In 4-H, students are encouraged to pursue whatever they are passionate about, be it photography or sewing or a host of other subjects. For the Wilcher brothers it was animal husbandry. They launched into raising pigs, chickens, goats, calves and turkeys, all of which they show and sell at the Tanana Valley State Fair.
They even tried reindeer. Through a special project with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program, the boys each raised a reindeer a couple of years ago. Neither was able to show his deer at the fair because they couldn’t get them to calm down enough. “It was a fun experience, though,” Dakota said.
Wyatt is partial to goats, while Dakota loves pigs. “I’m a goat guy,” Wyatt said. “They are so fun. They follow me around.”
“Pigs are the funnest animals,” Dakota said. “They are so friendly and loveable and I can teach them tricks.”
Their current pig, Mildred, is the first one they have tried to overwinter. Normally they purchase piglets in the spring and sell them before winter. When Dakota declared to his dad that he wanted to keep Mildred and have her bred, Mike said they would need a barn and he was not paying for it.
His brother told him he could never build a barn but Dakota was persistent. “I said it to motivate him,” Wyatt said with a smile.
Dakota found plans on the internet for building a barn out of wooden pallets and began talking it up. When he interacted with business owners at the fair this year they generously offered him used supplies. A beer distributor gave him 90 pallets, a feed store donated 2×6’s, a door and insulation, the family’s church sold leftover building material at a huge discount and another business gave plywood that was stained with tar. “The barn looks ugly, but that’s temporary,” Dakota said. “I’m going to side it next year.”
Dakota has a list of customers all ready to purchase all the piglets Mildred has. “If it’s 22 I can sell them all and if it’s two they go to Wyatt,” Dakota said. Because Mildred was originally Wyatt’s pig, Dakota owes him the piglets.
Dakota and Mike worked on the barn evenings and weekends and now it is a cozy habitat for Mildred and the goats, heated by a small fan, light bulbs and the animals’ body heat.
Soon it will be equipped with a baby monitor, as the pregnant goats are due to give birth in January and February, and Mildred is due Feb. 2
Asked what they have learned, Dakota responded, “That pigs can survive eating light bulbs.” He takes that quirky sense of humor to Facebook, where he manages the Budget Barn Farm account. Humorous pictures and comments are posted there. On Thanksgiving, Santa came to visit the farm and of course a photo of the jolly one and Mildred hit Facebook right away.
On a more serious note, Dakota said he has learned about animal husbandry, breeding cycles and how much protein and warmth animals need.
Both Wilcher sons plan to stay involved in agriculture. Dakota wants a 40-acre farm on Eielson Farm Road and Wyatt wants to be a journalist, teacher or radio announcer and live in a nice house in the suburbs with a goat or two in the back yard.
The brothers bicker, as all young brothers do, but seem to have worked out their business relationship. While Dakota is the more outspoken idea man, Wyatt is the quiet laborer type. In addition to their farm, they also have Wilcher Boys’ Enterprises, operating a candy machine business and a snow shoveling service.
Mike explained that, beyond the basics, if the boys want anything they have to earn the money themselves. They took that to heart from a young age. “We have the best parents in the world,” Wyatt said.
“I wouldn’t change any of this for anything,” Wyatt said “We have learned the basics of life and how to treat people.”
“It’s fun,” Dakota chimed in.
This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org