Teaching & Learning

Cutting-Edge Cream

James ’93 and Rob ’96 Baerwolf drew on UW innovations to develop Sassy Cow Creamery.

Robert and James Baerwolf in front of a red barn

Their UW experience opened James (left) and Robert Baerwolf to new ideas. Andy Manis

Though Sassy Cow Creamery is certainly one of a kind, in scale it resembles another legendary facility 20 miles south on the UW campus.

“We’re probably like a cousin of Babcock ice cream,” James Baerwolf ’93 says, “or at least they were a size we could wrap our heads around when we were getting started.”

As College of Agricultural and Life Sciences students, James and his brother, Rob ’96, (at left in photo above), studied agriculture education and dairy science. They commuted daily from Columbus, Wisconsin, for classes, while also working on the family farm.

“I figured I’d be farming and wanted to take advantage of everything the university had to offer for all aspects of operating a farm,” Rob says of a course load that also included plant science and engineering.

When James and Rob graduated, their parents were ready to retire, giving the brothers a chance to make the farm their own. “The college experience allowed us to be a little more willing to adopt new technology or changes in farming,” James says.

Today, the brothers work the same Columbia County land their grandfather purchased in 1946, though their footprint has expanded. Their two farms cover 1,700 acres. Some 850 cows produce 6,000 gallons of milk daily, including 250 cows that produce organic milk.

In 2008, James and Rob, looking for new ways to grow their business, opened Sassy Cow Creamery. They produce and sell organic and traditional milk, 50 ice cream flavors, and other dairy products at retailers across Wisconsin and Illinois and at their Columbus location, a year-round destination for dairy lovers. Last summer, new construction tripled the size of the store.

Back when they began building the creamery, the two looked to their alma mater for tips. Working with the former Dairy Business Innovation Center, UW’s Center for Dairy Research, and some Babcock plant personnel, the Baerwolfs tapped into decades of expertise. They draw on the UW’s resources for staffing, too. Many of the creamery’s interns are Badgers. Sales and marketing manager Kara Kasten-Olson ’07 started at Sassy Cow after graduating with degrees in dairy science and life sciences communication.

As the dairy industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace, Rob’s advice for future farmers mirrors the model that grew the Baerwolf farms and Sassy Cow. “New ideas and innovation are a better bet than trying to succeed in the commodity markets or by size alone,” he says.

Published in the Winter 2019 issue


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