It’s been eight years since Sean Hebel moved from Wisconsin to Lonsdale to farm with his father-in-law, Jeff Docken, and the changes haven’t stopped since.
Hebel, his wife, Heather, and their 5-year-old daughter now live in a house behind Heather’s parents. Chester Avenue in Northfield, located 6 miles northeast of Lonsdale, is an area where Docken is never too far from family. Siblings of his also live in the area, but when it came to continuing the farm, Docken called Hebel “his only hope.” Docken’s son in Savage and daughter in Duluth had no interest in farming.
“It has lightened my burden, knowing I can be gone,” said Docken, who also serves as Rice County Commissioner and can’t spend all his time on the farm.
Together, the father-in-law and son-in-law team became HD (Hebel and Docken) Beef Works and, as Hebel said, best friends. This year, Hebel will buy 40 acres to begin the process of taking over the family farm.
“I never thought I’d be farming in all my years,” said Hebel. “I went to college to be a fitness trainer. Now I live in Northfield, Minnesota, to do farming. It’s a wonderful, wonderful career. I took a pay cut of $50,000 to do this. And I love it.”
Hebel once worked at a co-op in Wisconsin spreading fertilizer on farmers’ fields, but his farming philosophy changed once he began working alongside Docken, who started raising 100 percent grass-fed beef in the late 1990s.
Docken and his wife, Annie, have lived on the farm since 1975. He grew up farming for his own father, who cut grass until he was 86. Docken’s main farming focus shifted from dairy to hay for horse customers to beef.
“I started out raising steers and fattening them on grain,” said Docken. “A doctor friend in Lonsdale convinced me grass-fed was the way to go and asked if I would be interested.”
Now keeping a closed herd, Hebel and Docken have close to 200 cows, including the calves. Odenthal Meats, their processor out of New Prague, inspects all the cows and steers to make sure they pass all the state protocols before packaging, labeling and stamping products with the Minnesota label.
“We have all [the animals] inspected because then there’s no questions,” said Docken. “I have yet to have a health issue on any animal that goes through.”
Last year, Hebel and Docken began raising chickens and pigs in addition to cattle. They raise 50 chickens at a time, which Hebel said makes them easier to manage, and give them all certified organic feed. The pigs, all pasture-raised, eat non-GMO pig feed.
“[The pigs] basically compost for us,” said Hebel. “We’re hoping to raise at least 50 this year. We’re all about being earth-friendly, so we try to be conscious of that. We give back the land what we take from the land.”
While Hebel said he doesn’t try to sway people from eating grain- or corn-fed beef, he does want to educate people on the products they eat and buy. Hebel and Docken like inviting people to the farm for visits, especially kids, to bottle-feed the calves and hold the chickens. As another way to assure customers their animals only eat forage and grass, Hebel and Docken are in the process of becoming certified by the American Grass-fed Association (AGA). Only one other Minnesota farm has this certification.
HD Beef Works products have made their way to restaurants in Faribault, Northfield and Farmington. Hebel and Docken also sell packages to individual customers who place orders on their website, hdbeefworks.com, or call the farm at 507-744-2539 or 920-723-4969. Customers pick up their orders as early as the next day at 6320 Chester Avenue in Northfield.