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The focus at Maple Hill Farm – know your farmer, know your food

Ladysmith farm is one of very few sheep dairies in the State of Wisconsin

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April 29, 2024

LADYSMITH – Since starting Maple Hill Farm – a sheep dairy located near Ladysmith – nearly two decades ago, Owners Brian and Tammy Michielson have focused their efforts on providing customers with high-quality products from animals that have lived a quality life.

“We believe every person should know where their food comes from, see how it is raised, learn why it is raised that way, meet the people who raise your food and understand the value of small family farms,” Brian said.

From the beginning

The Michielsons said their lives as farmers started in 2006 when a farm they had long admired went up for sale.

Despite having a limited background in agriculture, Brian said they purchased the property with plans of turning it into a fully functioning farm.

The decision to focus on sheep, he said, was made after their son Nathan needed a livestock project to show at the Rusk County Fair – deciding on a lamb.

“Off we went to buy two lambs for his project,” Brian said. “He got the lambs, we raised them and it was fun.”

Several hundred sheep later, Maple Hill Farm is a sheep dairy with a full milking parlor.

“It has evolved over the years into what it has become,” he said. “We have never looked back.”

The Michielsons said they gradually grew the farm to include beef, chickens and hogs – and started selling products.

“We did not go into this with the idea of starting a store,” Brian said. “We were selling a few products to friends out of our chest freezer in our milk house. Eventually, we needed to expand and turned our two-car garage into a one-car garage and eventually no garage at all.”

Sheep the focus

Though the Michielsons branched out some in terms of livestock, Brian said the sheep remain the core of the operation – the source of what he calls a powerhouse product. 

With 7.8% butterfat, far more than cow or goat milk, sheep milk, he said, is naturally sweet and creamy.

Because of its smaller fat globules and more protein, Brian said it is also easier to digest and is packed with vitamins, minerals and the right kinds of fat.

Brian said Maple Hill Farm’s flock is milked twice a day from February through September, with most of the product sold to central Wisconsin-based Carr Valley Cheese, which uses it to produce award-winning cheeses, such as “Boozin’ Ewe,” so-named because it is soaked in port wine. 

Other varieties include “Sante,” which Carr Valley describes as “semi-firm with a nutty flavor and pecorino finish;” along with “Ba Ba Blue Cheese” and the caved-aged Marisa, which Carr Valley said gets its complex, sweet and “slightly rambunctious” flavor from open-air cave aging. 

Though the Michielsons said they retain some of the milk for sheep milk soaps and lotions handmade by Tammy, who said she learned the process through much trial and error.

“I make all my products in small batches and use quality ingredients, with no artificial fragrances or dyes,” she said. “Essential oils and botanically infused oils for scent are a must for my sensitive skin.”

Tammy said the extra fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals in sheep milk – the reasons the liquid makes such great cheese – are also key for skin health.

The fatty content of sheep milk, she said, is richer than the more commonly known goat milk, which helps ensure skin stays deeply hydrated, maintaining skin elasticity, while warding off unwelcome dryness.

Sheep milk, Tammy said, has a superior concentration of vitamins A, B and E – which can help reduce the appearance of aging and promote overall skin health.

Maple Hill Farm sheep milk beauty products, she said, range from foaming hand soaps and facial bars to lotions, shampoos and conditioners – as well as “Ugly Bars,” which Brian said are named as such because they are made to be used, not just displayed.

Brian said he estimates 75% of the farm store customers are local to Rusk County.

“The community support has been great,” he said.

One of those customers is Richard Cerra, who said he appreciates the closeness of Maple Hill Farm.

“We don’t have to drive to Rice Lake or Eau Claire to find the products we like,” he said. 

Milk vs. wool

Raising sheep for milk, rather than wool, Brian said, is a fairly new industry in Wisconsin. 

According to the Sheep Dairy Association of Wisconsin, of which he said Maple Hill is a member, Wisconsin farmers have only been milking sheep since the early 1990s.

The association includes five dairy sheep producers, five artisanal sheep cheese makers and four sheep dairy producers with homestead creameries, soap/lotion making and shops.

“We would like to expand the association,” Brian, who serves as president of the board of directors, said. “We’re especially looking for sheep milk dairies in the eastern part of the state.”

Maple Hill Farm has the meat

Brian said Maple Hill Farm meats are another carefully curated component of the operation. Depending on the season, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken and pork and lamb are available for purchase.

The farm carries the Animal Welfare Approved label, which Brian said requires the highest welfare standards from birth through slaughter.

“We want our customers to see how our animals are raised, the conscious effort we put forth to make sure they live a great life and the value we put into their existence,” he said. “Every animal should be able to go outside in the fresh air and sunshine.”

In keeping with the focus on “know your farmer,” the Michielsons also offer classes and tours and recently hosted its annual lamb open house.

“We had hundreds of people come through here for lamb day,” he said. “It has grown so much over the years.”

Lamb Open House, Brian said, is held every year during lambing season and welcomes families to the farm to visit with the baby lambs.

The Michielsons said they also attend farmers markets three times weekly in the summer, plus a winter market.

Though the farm’s meats are only available through the store, Brian said Carr Valley distributes its cheese across the nation.

Tammy said her lotions and soaps are available through the farm’s online store, as well as at a variety of retail outlets across Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Washington.

“We’ve been blessed and are having fun,” Brian said. “This is what we are going to do for the rest of our lives.”

Maple Hill Farm – which is located at N4009 Townline Road – is open 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

To learn more about the Michielsons and Maple Hill Farm, visit maplehillfarmwi.com.

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