The Cows Take Center Stage
Situated on the edge of Dane County, a half-hour away from Madison, Wis., Baerwolf Dairies, LLC is a unique family farm. Brothers Rob and James Baerwolf both attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and returned home to farm. Their wives – both named Jenny, coincidently – are also partners in the operation.
Baerwolf Dairies is comprised of two separate entities – a conventional and an organic dairy. The conventional dairy milks about 420 cows while the organic herd includes about 200 cows. Both couples have equal ownership of both operations.
That in itself is quite unique, but it’s not the only thing that makes this farm special. While the official farm name is Baerwolf Dairies, southern Wisconsinites are probably more familiar with the name Sassy Cow. In May of 2008, the Baerwolf family launched a new business venture and created Sassy Cow Creamery
near Columbus, Wis. Just off a county highway, the creamery makes milk, ice cream and cheese curds and offers farmstead sales of these products. Several grocery stores and restaurants throughout Wisconsin also sell the dairy foods.
Sassy Cow is the only farmstead creamery in the U.S. that includes both organic and conventional herds. All of the organic milk is processed and sold under the Sassy Cow brand. According to Jenny, about 60 percent of the conventional milk is sold as Sassy Cow and the rest is sold to another creamery to be made into butter.
With a nationally recognized farmer’s market and a long list of one-of-a-kind restaurants, many Madison consumers have jumped aboard the local foods movement. The Baerwolfs recognized opportunity in this trend, which encouraged them to expand to include the organic dairy and later the creamery. Rob’s wife, Jenny, said it was a great business decision as well as a consumer education opportunity.
“The creamery is great because it teaches people where their food comes from and that’s so important,” she said.
During the summer, Sassy Cows Creamery hosts an open house event once a month and offers public farm tours. Spend a few minutes with a Baerwolf family member and it’s easy to see two founding principles to the dairies’ success: a focus on family and excellent animal care.
Jenny, who also grew up on a dairy farm, said she and her husband feel it’s important to raise their four kids on the farm because they know the values they learned as kids.
“We know how much we learned by growing up on a farm,” Jenny said. “We learned responsibility and good animal husbandry. We want our kids to learn those same things.”
She said she enjoys working with family members because they all get along and love what they do. But like any business, communication is often the biggest challenge and they must actively work to report back to the group about what’s going on in their respective areas. Since the creamery opened in 2008, James has devoted almost all of his time to managing that portion of the business, but he also manages the transition cows. His wife is a teacher in Madison and helps out with feeding the organic calves from time to time. Rob covers the other areas of the dairies’ along with the crops. Jenny manages the calf program as well as the farms’ and creamery’s financials. The farm employs six full-time workers and two part-time calf feeders. The creamery has 18 employees. The next generation of Baerwolfs is beginning to help with chores too.
Regardless of whether they are members of the Baerwolf family or if they work at the farms or the creamery, everyone at Sassy Cow places care for the animals at the top of the list of priorities. That attention to animal husbandry is very important to the Sassy Cow brand, which is committed to producing quality dairy products and runs by the motto of “the cows take center stage.”
“The cows come first and that’s definitely true,” Jenny said. “We are very family-oriented here and the cows are like extended family.”