“There’s a tremendous deficit in knowledge between what people think happens on a dairy farm and what actually happens,” says Dan Wegmueller, who owns The Dairy at the Wegmueller Farm with his wife, Ashley.
They want to change that, one person at a time.
The Dairy at the Wegmueller Farm gives visitors a chance to spend a few days exploring an active Brown Swiss dairy farm. “People want to reconnect with agriculture and the concept of where their food comes from,” Wegmueller says. “With us, you can actually hand-milk a cow or hand-feed a calf.”
As a fourth-generation farmer, Wegmueller knows a thing or two about the dairy business. After realizing that the industry was headed for difficult times in April 2017, he knew the farm needed to make a change to stay ahead of the challenges to come. “We converted the farmhouse to a short-term rental,” he says. Listed on the popular short-term rental site Airbnb, the house sleeps up to 11 or 12 comfortably and offers four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a fully stocked kitchen and laundry facilities.
“We were the first ones in this area to do something like that on a dairy farm, so we had no idea if it was going to work,” Wegmueller says.
Building the Farm’s Future
“From September through November of 2018, we were booked almost every weekend, and that was with no advertising,” he says. “People want an authentic experience. Anyone can go to Disneyland, anyone can go to a water park, but the people that stay with us do so because we offer an authentic experience that’s educational.”
Wegmueller sees his 60-cow operation as a way to preserve traditional farming.
One way they’re doing that is by letting the cows roam the fields and keeping them grass-fed. “Cows are out on grass most of the day in the spring, summer and fall, and the only time they come in is when they get milked,” Wegmueller says.
And consumers can definitely taste the difference. “Our milk goes solely to cheese production,” he says. Thanks to farms like The Dairy at the Wegmueller Farm, processor Torkelson Cheese Co. has won multiple World Champion Cheese awards. “A gallon of Brown Swiss milk typically produces more cheese than Holstein milk. It’s like leaded versus unleaded gas or regular versus light beer.”
Connecting Cows to People
Opening up the farm did more than establish a new revenue stream. “It gave us a sense of purpose,” Wegmueller says. “I love inviting people out and showing them exactly what we do in this setting – it’s not fake, it’s not a performance – it’s an actual working dairy farm.”
And visitors love it. The Wegmuellers host groups from all over the world, from Chicago to Australia. Liz, a recent Airbnb guest, says, “It was truly an honor to spend time with them on their family grounds and get to partake in the farm’s activities. Let me tell you, I will never purchase dairy products the same way again.”