RUSK COUNTY, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – When one family’s dream farm in Rusk County came up for sale, they knew they had to buy it.
Tonight, in County-By-County, First News at Nine’s Maria Blough shares how they took that dream and turned it into a place to connect consumers with where their food comes from.
Just ten minutes away from downtown Ladysmith sits this milk parlor, though it’s not used for what you may think.
Here at Maple Hill Farm, they raise dairy sheep.
Brian Michielson, Owner of Maple Hill Farm said, “We didn’t know what direction we wanted to go. It didn’t seem like milking 20 to 30 cows was a profitable business, so we looked into goat milking.”
Through his research, Brian Michielson learned about milking sheep.
The Michielson family already had some experience with these wooly animals.
Tammy Michielson, Owner of Maple Hill Farm said, “Our oldest son wanted to show sheep at the local county fair, so we got some meat breed sheep, and we decided we liked the size of the animal, so we started milking sheep.”
Tammy Michielson says most of this milk goes to a nearby cheesemaker. Some of it though stays on the farm. She turns it into lotions and soaps.
“When I started making it, nobody was making it with sheep milk that I could find, so I adapted it to a goat’s milk type recipe, and just figuring out what my skin liked is how I came up with my recipe,” said Tammy.
As someone with sensitive skin, Tammy worked to create products for people like her. To keep up with demand, you’ll catch her in this commercial kitchen every day whipping up a batch of something made with sheep milk.
Since sheep produce milk for only about seven months out of the year, the Michielsons expanded their business to include meat.
“Actually had a customer come and say well asked about buying a pig and basically said we just needed a couple of pounds of bacon and that started the rest of the business,” said Brian Michielson.
Now when you visit their store, you can buy beef, pork, lamb, chicken, eggs, and even turkey around Thanksgiving.
All of their products are animal welfare approved, something that was important for the Michielsons.
“One thing we ‘ve always felt was lacking in the meat industry was happy raised animals,” said Brian Michielson.
The AWA certification means all the animals spend almost their entire lives on the farm from birth until harvest.
In addition to happily raised animals, the Michielsons had another mission: To help people know their food.
As their business expanded, it was important for them to keep people coming to the farm.
“We wanted people to see how their food is raised, we didn’t necessarily want to go into an off the farm store because we wanted people here. That’s kind of what makes us unique. It helps customers understand how their food is raised,” said Tammy Michielson.
Looking back at when they started their farm in 2006, the Michielsons had no idea it would turn into what it is now.
“35 years ago we were dating, we would drive by the farm we always said if it came up for sale we would buy it. And it came up for sale and we bought it and we had no idea what the heck we were going to do on the farm,” said Tammy Michielson.
For them, the community played a key role.
“Customer demand. That has grown our business. We did not start off to have a farm store, but it seemed like the thing to do,” said Brian Michielson.
There’s no other place than Rusk County they’d want to grow their business.
For County by County, Maria Blough First News At Nine.
As a way to give back to their community, Maple Hill Farm hosts a free event every year during lambing season.
Visitors get to see the newborn sheep and celebrate the winter season.
Throughout the year the Michielsons say whenever the store is open the farm is open for people to see everything firsthand.