Dan and Cindy Wrucke enjoy raising sheep for wool and meat. Dan Wrucke is the fifth generation to operate Oak Grove Homestead Farms at Horicon. He has experience in retail management and is putting that experience to use in the new yarn and gift shop he and his wife opened this year on their farm.
Photo By Gloria Hafemeister
Wrucke is fifth generation to operate Oak Grove Homestead Farms
Oak Grove Farms is a fifth generation farm operated by Dan and Cindy Wrucke, Horicon.
When the couple purchased the farm from his parents seven years ago they began the search for a way to keep the farm going for future generations and are looking forward to 2018 when they will receive their 150-year Sesquicentennial designation from the state.
After several years of planning, looking at their strengths and weaknesses, their interests and the needs of the community they came up with the idea of raising sheep and organic produce and opening a store on the farm.
Dan comments, "The idea evolved over several years. We're located on a busy highway (State Road 33 west of Horicon) and there are a lot of tourists that come through here, especially in spring and fall."
Other factors include the fact that Cindy is an avid knitter and realized there are many others like her who are seeking natural fibers for their projects.
Cindy says, "I found natural fibers are not readily available. We also realized there are people who come to the Marsh area to see the natural beauty but then find there aren't many unique places to shop in the area."
With those things in mind they bought their first ewes three years ago to begin the flock of sheep that would produce both wool and lamb.
They have increased their flock each year since then and plan to grow their flock according to demand for the wool and meat. They currently have 62 sheep on the farm with 18 of them being market lambs and the rest for breeding.
Yearlings typically have a single lamb the first time and then twins are the norm but they say this year they had two sets of triplets.
"We have found people really love to watch the lambs play around in early spring so a part of our plan is to have lamb days on the farm in spring. We just put up a fabric barn and will have lambing in a portion of that barn and a path leading from the shop to the barn so visitors will have a safe environment where they can view the animals," Cindy says.
"We chose the Romney breed because they produce soft lofty wool that makes great yarn and they are also good for meat," Cindy says. "It's a natural color sheep. Some are white, some are dark or silver. With a natural color animal people can have a selection of the natural colors for yarn."
They also have some crossbred sheep and focus on the quality of the fleece for spinning and felting.
The sheep also produce fertilizer for their organic vegetable gardens and attract the attention of tourists passing by the farm who enjoy watching the antics of the lambs in the pastures.
Their lambs are raised organically without injections or medications but they are not certified organic, mainly because the bedding they use is not from certified organic land.
"Our focus is on being natural," says Dan. "It makes the lamb so much more flavorful and it's nice knowing exactly what the animal ate before it was sent to market."
They take orders for half or whole lambs that will be available in November and February.
They hire world renowned shearer David Kier to come to their farm to shear the animals. "We met him at the sheep and wool festival and are very impressed with his knowledge. He can do 20 ewes and a ram in an hour and does a very good job," Cindy says.
In the shop they market raw fleece, washed fleece, carded wool and sheepskin rugs. She currently washes and cards fleece manually and hand spins the yarn but they are in the process of acquiring equipment that will make it possible to do the job much more efficiently.
"We sell wool at all stages. Some people want to wash their own and others want it carded but then want to spin their own. Some want yarn ready for knitting or crocheting," Cindy says.
She says the goal for the shop is to carry items that, as a knitter, she knows are hard to find.
While much of the yarn stocked in the shop is wool from her sheep she also carries other brands and fibers. Other fibers include sugar cane, bamboo, silk blends, baby llama and even opossum.
Since predators can get into pastures and kill lambs, the couple is currently considering getting a llama or two to guard the sheep.
Dan points out that donkeys and dogs also serve as good guard animals but the llamas would have another purpose - they could provide additional fiber for the shop.
CRP LAND GOOD
As for their produce business, they point out that when they bought the farm some of the land was just coming out of the 10-year Conservation Reserve Program. As such, it had not seen any chemicals or artificial fertilizers for many years and would be ideal land to transition into certified organic.
They started with 15 acres that they planted to hay and then turned an acre of it into a garden for raising organic produce to sell at the store.
The entire farm that they own is 157 acres and they rent another hundred acres from Dan's uncle and dad. He raises corn and soybeans on that land and will eventually convert some more of the land to organic.
According to the organic certification rules they need to maintain a 25-foot buffer around the organic land.
Dan says, "If I raise row crops on the land that is transitioning to organic I need to sell the crops at conventional prices for the first three years even though it is operated with organic methods. By planting hay the sheep can graze and help build the fertility."
Their venture is backed by their family, they are proud to say.
Their grown children were involved one way or another. Tara set up the floor plan; Megan worked with the merchandise; Ian painted and helped get the building ready; and Jordan helped with the insulation. Dan's parents also helped.
Besides the organic produce and fleece and yarn the Knitty Gritty Shop has wool hooked pillows, aprons and unique kitchen accessories, lamb and farm animal toys, garden accessories and willow furniture.
The shop also hosts classes featuring various renowned artists.