BOSCOBEL – Even though they saw how their parents struggled as dairy farmers when they were kids, identical twin brothers Jason and Justin Sparrgrove wanted to milk cows. Their parents stopped milk production when the boys were in high school, but it became their dream goal.
The two brothers left Wisconsin after high school – Justin to go to college and Jason to join the US Navy as Seabee. But they both wanted to return to the state to cultivate and raise families; they never lost this dream of dairy farming.
“We want to raise our children the way we were raised,” Jason said, noting that each brother now has four children. The eight cousins enjoy running around the farm where the two families live, feeding the baby lambs together and exploring.
At first, Justin worked for a friend of their parents and thanks to this job he got the opportunity to buy cows and rent this farm. Eventually the brothers moved their herd of 40 cows to a stable they bought in the town of Woodman, near Boscobel. Today, they milk 130 cows.
But they were faced with the question that many dairy farmers face: how to generate more income without investing in a huge dairy farm.
“We didn’t want to have a monster dairy, with all the debt that comes with it,” says Justin. So they looked for a way to add a business that would help the results.
“Dairy farming is very on hold, very roller coaster,” Jason said. “Either we were going to withdraw from the trade or we had to find something else. “
They envisioned a retail store in Boscobel to sell ice cream. It is located in a busy corner where they can pick up local traffic as well as passing tourists.
“We knew there were a few places in town where people could get soft serve ice cream, but we thought, well, what if we made hand dipped ice cream,” Jason said. Today, their store has 24 flavors.
As for the retail store, they knew they had to have a place on the city’s main highways. Their building had been a lot of things over the years, including a storage location for an auto parts store. In 2017, they took it over and spent several months remodeling it into their ice cream shop.
“We’re getting too big for this building,” Jason says. “I think we’re going to have to make it bigger, but it has to be on the main road.”
Their ice cream is made by WW Homestead Creamery in nearby Waukon, Iowa. But the Sparrgoves, who call their business “Udder Brothers Creamery,” sell so much that the Homestead ice cream company can’t keep up, so they added another brand to complement Homestead ice cream.
This Iowa-based two-family company also bottles milk and makes butter. These items are also available in the Udder Brothers store.
Their store now also serves lunch, something that was recently added. The coolers offer customers pork grown on the Sparrgrove farm, as well as locally produced beef on another farm. During the pandemic containment, many local customers gathered in the store to purchase beef and pork.
Now that Covid quarantines are easing, Justin said travelers from Iowa and Illinois are visiting their store again and business has returned to pre-pandemic levels. The brothers have two ice cream trailers that they take to events such as tractor pulls and farmers’ markets and they see that activity now picking up again.
Their retail store also offers jobs to local youth. Last year, with declining traffic due to the Covid, they only had five employees. “Now we’ve increased that to eight,” Jason said.
“Covid was horrible for everyone,” says Jason.
“Last year, tourists never came,” adds her brother Justin. “This year, there is definite growth. I think this year is going to be a good year. We have certainly seen an increase.
Over the past year, Covid has also presented challenges to them in the form of processing their pigs for the meat they sell in the store. As many people have noticed, it has been a difficult year to secure appointments to treat the animals. Two processors in the region have closed, which has increased pressure on the remaining small meat processors.
“Hopefully we can get more of these little meat factories into the state,” adds Justin.
He takes pride in the fact that the products they sell in their store are made or grown within a 60 mile radius.
“Our meat is born, raised and processed in this county,” said Justin. The products they sell also include lamb and poultry raised nearby. The brothers also sell their own line of cheddar cheeses made for them with the milk of their herd.
The rest of the milk produced by the Sparrgrove Holstein herd is marketed through the Scenic Central Milk Producers cooperative, where they receive a “Cows First” bonus for the way they take care of their animals. This milk is transported to Meister Cheese in Muscoda.
Accessories for Scenic Central
“We probably wouldn’t be milking cows if we weren’t with Scenic Central,” says Jason. Each month they compare their cost price to other local farmers who ship their milk to other cooperatives and their price is always better.
He also credits a loan from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) which gave the brothers access to capital to start their dairy farm.
“I mean, who else would give a 24-year-old couple a loan to start a dairy farm?” Jason said.
Yet they knew that if they wanted to support their growing family, they had to do something more. “Milk control just isn’t enough,” says Justin.
Before launching their retail store, the brothers did their best to maximize their milk control – taking turns milking their cows three times a day for two years to try and earn extra income.
Their farming is somewhat hampered by their small area and the lack of additional land available. They own 40 acres and rent 100 acres to grow their corn silage and buy hay to feed their cows.
“It’s a struggle to add farmland,” says Jason. “We have the 10 and 12 acre plots that no one else wants. “
Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes and Marcy West, Director of WEDC’s Rural Prosperity Office, visited the Udder Brothers Creamery in Boscobel on Monday as part of the month’s celebration June in Wisconsin.
“Farmers are very entrepreneurial and certainly know how to take risks and make smart investments,” said Hughes. “What’s exciting about Udder Brothers Creamery is that the Sparrgrove families have really made it a showcase for farm produce across the region and have turned to small business ownership to diversify their businesses. income and run the family farm. “
Hughes told Wisconsin State Farmer that she was thrilled to see the brother’s entrepreneurial spirit in this small town and their community and family-oriented approach.
“It’s exciting to see their energy and optimism that keeps them going. They have a dynamic mind, ”she said.
Hughes worked for 18 years at Organic Valley as general counsel and mission leader before taking over as head of WEDC and knew she wanted to do something to mark the month of June in dairy.
West, who is in her second month as director of the WEDC Rural Prosperity Office, said she was impressed that the retail store provided high school students with a work opportunity and that it has become a commercial anchor point in the community.
“These guys have a real sense of optimism coming out of the pandemic,” West said.
The Udder Brothers have said their next step may be to start turning their own milk into ice cream.