Udder Brothers’ Creamery allows brothers to keep milking

Jan Shepel
Identical twin brothers Jason, left, and Justin Sparrgrove are optimistic about the prospects for business to return to normal in their retail store in Boscobel, following last year’s pandemic-induced slowdown. They were visited this week by officials from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, who wanted to highlight their contributions to their local community and their entrepreneurial spirit.

BOSCOBEL – Even though they saw how their parents struggled as dairy farmers when they were kids, identical twin brothers Jason and Justin Sparrgrove wanted to milk cows. Their parents got out of dairying when the boys were in high school but somehow it became their dream goal.

Both brothers left Wisconsin after high school – Justin to attend college and Jason to join the U.S. Navy as a Seabee. But they both wanted to return to the state to farm and to raise families; they never lost that dream of dairy farming.

“We want to raise our kids the way we were raised,” Jason said, noting that each brother now is father to four kids. The eight cousins enjoy running around the farm where both families live, feeding baby lambs together and exploring.

In the beginning, Justin worked for a friend of their parents and through that job was given an opportunity to buy cows and rent that farm. Eventually the brothers moved their 40-cow herd to a barn they purchased in the Town of Woodman, near Boscobel. Today they milk 130 cows.

But they faced the question that many dairy farmers face – how to generate more income without investing in a huge dairy operation.

“We didn’t want to have a monster dairy, with all the debt that goes with that,” says Justin. So they looked around for a way to add an enterprise that would help the bottom line.

“Dairy farming is very up in the air, very roller coaster,” Jason said. “Either we were going to get out of milking or we had to figure something else out.”

What they came up with was a retail store in Boscobel to sell ice cream. It’s situated on a busy corner where they can capture local traffic as well as tourists who are driving by.

“We knew there were a couple places in town where people could get soft serve ice cream but we thought, well, what if we did hand-dipped ice cream,” Jason said. Today their store has 24 flavors.

A giant Holstein cow greets visitors to the Udder Brothers Creamery in downtown Boscobel in southwest Wisconsin. The Sparrgrove brothers started the retail store because they wanted another enterprise in addition to their 130-cow dairy.

When it came to the retail store, they knew they needed to have a spot on the main highways in town. Their building had been a lot of things over the years including a storage spot for an auto parts store. In 2017 they took it over and spent several months remodeling it to serve as their ice cream shop.

“We’re outgrowing this building,” says Jason. “I think we’re going to have to make it bigger but it’s got to be on the main highway.”

Their ice cream is made by WW Homestead Creamery in nearby Waukon, Iowa. But the Sparrgoves, who call their business “Udder Brothers Creamery,” sell so much that the Homestead ice cream business can’t keep up so they added another brand to supplement the Homestead ice cream.

That Iowa company, formed by two families, also bottles milk and makes butter. Those items are also on offer in the Udder Brothers store.

By tapping into their entrepreneurial spirit, the Sparrgroves have managed to grow their 40-acre dairy farm in the town of Woodman to 130 milking cows while at the same time developing a successful ice cream shop and growing their families.

Now lunch

Their store also now serves lunch, something that was recently added. Coolers offer customers pork that is grown on the Sparrgrove’s farm, as well as locally produced beef from another farm. During the pandemic lockdown, many local customers found their way into the store to buy beef and pork.

Now that the Covid quarantines are easing, Justin said that travelers from Iowa and Illinois are once again visiting their store and business is back up to pre-pandemic levels. The brothers have two ice cream trailers that they take out to events such as tractor pulls and farmers markets and they see that business picking up again now.

Their retail store also offers employment to local youth. Last year, with diminished traffic because of Covid, they had only five employees. “Now we’ve bumped that up to eight,” Jason said.

“Covid was horrible for everyone,” says Jason.

“Last year the tourists never came,” adds his brother Justin. “This year there’s definite growth. I think this year’s going to be a good year. We have definitely seen an uptick.”

Over the last year Covid also brought challenges for them in the form of getting their hogs processed for the meat they sell in the store. As many people found, it was a tough year to get appointments to get animals processed. Two processors in the area closed, which made pressure on the remaining small meat processors even more intense.

The Udder Brothers Creamery doesn’t just scoop ice cream, it sells locally grown and processed meat from their farm and other local operations. During the Covid quarantine many local residents bought meat from the store.

“I hope we can get more of those small meat plants going in the state,” adds Justin.

He’s proud of the fact that the products they sell in their store are made, or grown within 60 miles.

“Our meat is born, raised and processed in this county,” Justin said. The products they sell include lamb and poultry raised nearby too. The brothers are also selling their own line of Cheddar cheeses made for them with milk from their herd.

The rest of the milk produced by the Sparrgrove’s herd of Holsteins is marketed through Scenic Central Milk Producers cooperative where they get a “Cows First” premium for the way they take care of their animals. That milk is hauled to Meister Cheese in Muscoda.

Props to Scenic Central

“We probably wouldn’t be milking cows anymore if we weren’t with Scenic Central,” says Jason. They compare their pay price each month to other local farmers who ship their milk to other cooperatives and their price is always better.

He also credits a Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan that allowed the brothers to get access to capital to start their dairy farm.

“I mean, who else would give a couple of 24-year-olds a loan to start a dairy farm?” Jason said.

Still, they knew that if they wanted to support their growing families they needed to do something in addition. “The milk check just isn’t enough,” says Justin.

Before starting their retail store, the brothers tried their best to maximize their milk check – taking turns milking their cows three times a day for two years to try to get extra revenue.

Their farming operation is somewhat hampered by their small acreage and lack of available additional land. They own 40 acres and rent 100 acres to grow their corn silage on and buy hay to feed their cows.

“It’s a struggle to add tillable land,” says Jason. “We have the 10 and 12-acre pieces that no one else wants.”

Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes and Marcy West, director of WEDC’s Office of Rural Prosperity visited Udder Brothers’ Creamery in Boscobel Monday as part of Wisconsin’s celebration of June Dairy Month.

Marcy West, Director of the Office of Rural Prosperity, left, waited for ice cream at the counter of the Udder Brothers Creamery in Boscobel on Monday. “The Sparrgrove families are a wonderful example of the energy and talent that young families bring to rural communities,” she said.

Can-do spirit

“Farmers have a lot of entrepreneurial spirit and certainly know how to take risks and make smart investments,” Hughes said. “What’s exciting about the Udder Brothers’ Creamery is that the Sparrgrove families have really made it a showcase for farm products throughout the region and that they turned to small business ownership to diversify their income and keep the family farm running.”

Hughes told Wisconsin State Farmer that she was excited to see the brother’s entrepreneurial spirit in this little town and their community and family oriented approach.

“It’s exciting to see their energy and the optimism that keeps them going. They have a can-do spirit,” she said.

Hughes worked for 18 years at Organic Valley as general counsel and chief mission officer before taking the helm at WEDC and knew she wanted to do something to highlight June Dairy Month.

West, who is in her second month as director of the WEDC’s Office of Rural Prosperity, said she’s impressed with the fact that the retail store offers high school students an opportunity for work and that it has become a business anchor in the community.

“These guys have a true sense of optimism coming out of the pandemic,” West said.

The Udder Brothers said their next step may be to begin processing their own milk into ice cream.