From dairy farm to Christmas tree sales

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer

TOWN OF DELAFIELD - Anabelle, a dairy cow at Cozy Nook Farm in Waukesha County, calmly watched the hustle of people hoisting Christmas trees on top of vehicles on Nov. 24. To her, little mattered other than the feed placed in front of her and the next milking. 

Anabelle, one of the dairy cows at Cozy Nook Farm, Waukesha, watches the activity of the opening day of Christmas tree sales on Nov. 24.

To Tom and Joan Oberhaus, it was opening day of Christmas tree sales and the yard and shed east of the milking barn buzzed with activity - the same area that about a month earlier had been lined with pumpkins during the farm's fall market. 

Joan was nestled in her "Santa's workshop" up the road, hand making Fraser fir 24- and 36-inch wreaths with her helpers, along with door swags and arches and other decorations.

Tom Oberhaus, owner of Cozy Nook Farms, drives a load of Christmas trees to the tree lot for unloading on Nov. 24. Oberhaus expects to sell out of trees by early December.

Tom came down from the workshop in time to visit with customers and pull another wagon of Christmas trees into place for unloading and tagging, before being placed out for sale. 

Family members who had joined Tom and Joan for a Thanksgiving meal the day before had stayed to help with opening day sales, efficiently managing activities from unloading and pricing trees to tying together boughs for sale and helping customers secure trees to vehicles. Some family members who hadn't come for Thanksgiving, still came - with their significant others - to help for the opening of Christmas tree sales. 

The Haberer family, of Waukesha, carefully selected their family Christmas tree, something that's become tradition for them. They come back to Cozy Nook Farm each year because "of the people, they're so nice."

The Haberer family, (from left) Shannon, Addison, 4, Elliott, 7, and Jeremy, of Waukesha, select a Christmas tree at Cozy Nook Farm on Nov. 24. The family returns to Cozy Nook each year because of the nice people at the farm.

"People that come on opening day are the people that come on opening day," said Tom, referring to family traditions. 

He anticipated they might sell out of the 1,600 trees they have for sale this year by the beginning of December with news stories pointing to a shortage of Christmas trees this year. 

Plenty of trees in Wisconsin

However, in Wisconsin, Christmas tree selection and prices haven't changed much from last year, Cheryl Nicholson, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association, told the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. According to Nicholson, Wisconsin growers have plenty of trees and aren't expecting any shortages.

St. Croix Valley Trees owner Sherrill Schottler told Wisconsin Public Radio that she doesn't expect any problems meeting the need on her 170-acre farm. Schottler says the farm tries to plant as many trees as possible 12 years prior to harvest.

National agriculture statistics show Wisconsin has the fifth most trees harvested each year.

Related:No lack of Christmas trees in Wisconsin, despite shortages elsewhere

Even without a shortage of Christmas trees, Cozy Nook Farm sold out of trees by mid December the past few years. One year they had four customers vying to buy the last three trees. 

The man who didn't get a tree that year looked at Tom and asked him, "Now what am I supposed to do?" He had to leave Cozy Nook Farm empty-handed after his wife had sent him out to buy a tree. 

The Zarling families, grandfather Russ (back), Mack, 3, and Jake, of Waukesha, carry their choice of Christmas tree to the register at Cozy Nook Farm, Waukesha, on Nov. 24, while mom and grandma follow. It’s a tradition for many families to purchase their Christmas trees at the farm the day after Thanksgiving.

"I told him, I don't know what to tell you - I don't have any more trees," Tom said. "I felt bad for him."

The weather was mild for opening day this year. Years when they have snow during tree sales, Tom said the trees have to be laid flat and later brushed off.


Tom and Joan delved into the Christmas tree business in the late 1980s, starting with less than 200 trees.

They had planted some trees and planned to operate a cut-your-own business, but found out there are lots of things involved in growing Christmas trees - especially when trees have to be cut at the same time crops are harvested. So, their son, Charlie, hauls semi loads of trees from tree farms in northern Wisconsin. 

Related:Buy local: buy a real Christmas tree

Those first years they got some business from people coming past from an unsuccessful, tiring venture at a cut-your-own tree farm west of Cozy Nook, Tom added laughing. 

Kate Griswold and Brad Jaeger walk among rows of Christmas trees for sale at Cozy Nook Farm on Nov. 24. The farm sells about 1,600 trees each year, selling out before Christmas.

Each season they adjust the number of trees they bring in a little, Tom explained, trying to anticipate demand, but advise customers to come early for the best selection. 

Cozy Nook will never be a mega farm, Tom said. Hemmed in from all sides by suburbs, villages and cities, they rely on diversity, milking 70 plus Brown Swiss and Guernseys for cheese production, adding farm tours, working with local 4-H clubs at the fair, the fall market and Christmas tree sales.

Anabelle and other cattle on the farm aren't fazed by the buzz of activity this business diversity brings. Some reach through a fence to get the grass that's greener on the other side, or like Anabelle, chew their cud and calmly watch customers flow past them. 

The Associated Press Contributed to this story.