November 29, 2021 at 7:45 p.m.

Airbnb vacation rental saves family farm

Wegmuellers make dairy operation profitable by welcoming visitors
Dan Wegmueller sits atop one of his favorite horses, Chazz, at Wegmueller  Farm near Monroe, Wisconsin. Wegmueller and his wife, Ashley, milk 40 cows and run an Airbnb on the property. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
Dan Wegmueller sits atop one of his favorite horses, Chazz, at Wegmueller Farm near Monroe, Wisconsin. Wegmueller and his wife, Ashley, milk 40 cows and run an Airbnb on the property. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

By Stacey [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

MONROE, Wis. – People seeking respite from fast-paced city life are finding a trip to Wegmueller Farm to be the ideal escape. Those looking for a peaceful and relaxing getaway are flocking to the farm’s Airbnb vacation rental not only to soak up the serenity of the countryside, but to immerse themselves in the farm experience. For many of the Wegmuellers’ guests, it is the only time they will step foot on a dairy farm.
“Our goal is to connect consumers to agriculture,” said Dan Wegmueller. “We have the opportunity to teach people where their food comes from and it’s working exceptionally well.”
Dan and his wife, Ashley, milk 40 Brown Swiss cows on their 350-acre farm near Monroe. The decision to transform his parents’ former farmhouse into an Airbnb was instrumental in saving Dan’s fourth-generation family farm.
“We started hosting groups at a time when we thought we were going to go bankrupt and have to sell,” Wegmueller said.
Not only did the Airbnb turn the farm around financially, it created an opportunity to invite people on an educational adventure in agriculture.
“The educational component is driving our business,” Dan said. “Having the opportunity to connect with someone who has never seen a cow up close or giving a little kid the chance to hand milk a cow has made it all worth it.”
Guests of Wegmueller Farm love the experience so much that many come back time after time. The Wegmuellers have hosted some families a half-dozen times. For travelers looking for a quiet country retreat, the dairy becomes their home away from home.
The Dairy at the Wegmueller Farm, as it is listed on Airbnb, features four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The family-friendly accommodations sleep up to 11 people. Cozy touches of the farm are sprinkled throughout the home that Dan said is perfect for large groups. People bring their own food and cook their own meals while taking advantage of the many amenities the house has to offer.
 People looking for a hands-on experience find it at Wegmueller Farm. Opportunities to interact with the farm’s animals are plentiful. In addition to cows, the farm includes horses, chickens, potbelly pigs, donkeys and cats.
“Guests have a lot of access to the farm,” Dan said. “The pigs are a huge hit, and we encourage people to feed them table scraps.”
 Sharing their farm with a new family each week, the Wegmuellers are enjoying their role as proprietors, showering guests with hospitality. A gift basket filled with products like cheese, chocolate and beer from local businesses is waiting when people arrive.
Cow milking and calf feeding demonstrations are part of the fun, and guests have the opportunity to milk a cow by hand and bottle feed a baby calf. Some guests like helping with chores to the point they have milked cows alongside Dan. New at the Wegmueller Farm are equine experiences where people grab the reins and take a trail ride.
“Two years ago, there wasn’t a single horse on this farm,” Dan said. “Now we have 15, including two Shetland ponies. Many are rescue horses. Horseback riding is another experience we can give people and another offering we can profit from. It’s also one more opportunity for guests to connect with animals.”
Beyond keeping the farm afloat through economic hardship, Dan has experienced personal tragedy as well. Within a three-year time frame, he lost both parents unexpectedly. When his father died in 2014, the family spent a couple years figuring out transferring the farm from Dan’s mother to Ashley and him.
“I believe ours is a success story of a generational transfer,” Dan said. “We did a farm buyout in 2016, and my mom received a payment that would compensate her for the rest of her life. I also bought out my three siblings who left the farm for non-ag careers. I’m really happy with the way we did it. I thought it was fair for everyone.”
After the passing of his mom in 2017, Wegmeuller recognized the bottom was about to fall out of the agriculture economy.
“This was especially true for small, multi-generational farms like ours,” he said. “I noticed on our milk check the price of milk was going down while input costs were going up. We knew our days were numbered unless we made significant changes. The answer was not milking more cows; we needed to do something different.”
The old farmhouse was sitting empty and Wegmueller saw it as an opportunity. He and Ashley made the decision to convert the house into a vacation rental, with the intent of targeting the Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee markets. Throughout 2017 and 2018, the Wegmuellers worked relentlessly to remodel the house.
“It was very outdated, and we spent a lot of money we didn’t have to fix it up,” Dan said.
“We took a huge risk doing this. I owed people a lot of money in 2018 because I wasn’t able to pay my bills. We were losing cash and not even getting by, so Ashley took a full-time job off the farm. Her paycheck bought diesel fuel, vet supplies and feed.”
But in September 2018, the Wegmuellers’ investment started to pay back as they hosted their first groups. The first guest came from New Jersey – an attorney doing international legal work who brought his family to attend Cheese Days in Monroe.
Since then, the Wegmuellers have hosted people from all over the world, including Ecuador, Switzerland, Great Britain, Australia, Belgium, Poland, China, Japan, New York City, Washington, D.C., and California, as well from the cities Wegmueller originally set out to attract.
“My favorite group was from Rwanda,” Wegmueller said.
Like many businesses, the Wegmuellers took a hit from the coronavirus pandemic, and from February to June of 2020, they lost all their bookings. However, from July onward, the farmhouse was booked and had guests nearly every night this summer.
“We spend no money on marketing,” Wegmueller said. “Everyone finds us on Airbnb.”
From military veterans to college professors and other intellectuals, the Wegmuellers host people from all walks of life.
“We’ve hosted vegetarians and vegans – the people you think would be anti-ag – and we changed their perceptions,” Wegmueller said. “We haven’t had a bad experience yet, and we’ve never received anything less than a 5-star review.”
A typical booking is two to three nights, but a family from Belgium stayed for a month. People appreciate that Wegmueller Farm is an authentic working dairy farm.
“We talk openly about everything we do – how we care for animals, haul manure, etc.,” Dan said. “I don’t hide anything. If I call the vet for a sick cow, I invite people to come out and see. Same with if a cow is getting bred.”
The Wegmuellers had the support from the community of Monroe from the start.
“They believed in what we were doing,” Dan said. “Our success is directly tied to the quality of our community. We send people downtown to shop, eat, etc., as there are a lot of great choices close by.”
The Wegmuellers are bringing people together while representing agriculture – specifically the dairy industry – at the same time.
“Direct consumer relationships like these are what is going to save the family farm,” Dan said.
Providing more experience-based offerings and onsite events are goals of the Wegmuellers.
“Everyone needs a reason to get out of bed in the morning and find accomplishment at the end of the day,” Dan said. “This vacation rental broadened our revenue stream, which was necessary to keep the farm going, and it made farming fun again.”


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