Second-generation farmer forges a new path
MANITOWOC - Growing up on the family farm in Manitowoc, Doug Ney saw how hard his parents worked. Since 1965, they’ve raised cattle and sold beef. Stepping in as the second generation, Ney has grown the business to include seven full-time employees and nearly two dozen part-timers. He sells to chefs around the state and directly to customers at farmers markets; he is known for custom cuts of meat, his burger grinds and nearly 50 varieties of bratwurst.
Ney hired chef Andrew Ostrowski to build relationships with chefs. They’ve worked with Goodkind, La Masa Empanada Bar, DanDan, Drink Wisconsinibly Pub & Grub, Morel Restaurant, Cloud Red and others around the state.
Known as Ney’s Big Sky, the company's official name became Ney’s Premium Inc. as of July 1. Ney, 46, lives in Slinger with his wife and two children. You’ll find him at the Brookfield, Greenfield and South Shore farmers markets in season.
Farm family roots
I grew up on our farm in Manitowoc. I raised cattle as part of our family’s operation. We had beef cattle and we did dairy Holstein replacement for large farms. Basically, we raised calves for the dairy farmers who didn’t want to raise them. Raising baby calves is a big effort. We at one time had more than 1,500 calves plus the beef cattle (mainly Angus).
We sold the beef directly off the farm. My parents did it old school. They didn’t have pretty packaging and labels. They didn’t sell to restaurants, just neighbors and local people.
Forging a new path
I knew growing up in it, it is a hard life. If I’m going to do this, you have to find a way to create your own market. There is really no other way to make a living.
I went to UW-Madison, planning (to be a) veterinarian. Plans changed. I got my undergrad in animal science and I minored in meat science and business. I always showed cattle in 4-H and I loved the cattle side of things. When I decided against veterinary medicine, I decided on meat science.
Evolution and expansion
Having to sell direct to the marketplace, we’ve had to bring products to people and make an effort. We have our sales inventory out of Slinger. We evolved at the farm, and now we have different things on the farm. We do beef, pork and poultry. We need room for different animals.
We are entirely Wisconsin-sourced and processed. As we grew, we had to expand. Our farmers are my uncles, friends and family. I’ve had to change my spin. Our farm is still active, but I’ve had to rely on other people I trust.
In his freezer
I have my prime rib burgers, and I love my ground chuck. I’ve got a really good-quality ground product; it is flavorful and not very fatty, and I use that in a pinch for spaghetti and meatballs.
Farmers market favorites
The prime rib burger and the ground chuck, those are the big movers. That’s what sells the most.
People like the hot cheesy brats, like jalapeño cheddar. It’s kind of corny, but I have a green and gold brat. For the Green Bay Packers, obviously. I rolled that out when the Packers made the Super Bowl.
The Freedom brat, with Michigan blueberries, Door county cherries and Wisconsin mozzarella, it sounds kind of weird. When I sample it, I sell out. Who would’ve thought of putting fruit in a brat with meat and cheese? I would never eat it, but people love it. I’m a brat traditionalist, I like a brat with ketchup, mustard and a little sauerkraut.
To carve out a niche for our company, I trademarked a few products. I registered with the State of Wisconsin, so I have the Official Burger of Wisconsin. I had to pay the money to have a protection on it and all that. It’s 100% ground ribeye, a prime rib burger. We also have the Official Brat of Wisconsin, a macaroni and cheese brat, believe it or not.
I want people to trust their supply. I put my name on the package. I also want to educate people on the industry. It is not a glamorous life. I just do it because I want to give back to the Earth. Farming has a big impact.
I’ve done a chicken noodle soup brat. I thought it would be a feel-good product, but nobody bought it. I do a lot of experimenting. I probably have 50 different types of brats.
Consumers are wanting more flavor profiles. They want something new and unique. They like having cookouts where they can say, I have a Bloody Mary burger and a whiskey peppercorn burger.
The next generation
I’ve got two daughters. My oldest is going to college and really has no interest in it. When you tell people, “I’m involved in meat” they think “eww, bloody.” It is hard to get high schoolers today excited about the meat.
I have a younger daughter, she’s 8, and she does want to do as much as she can and loves coming to the market. I can see the interest in her growing, perhaps. We’ll see.