March 27, 2023 at 2:02 p.m.

More than simply a side hustle

Smith, Rosenow diversify on large scale

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

WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. – Ken Smith and John Rosenow are dairy farmers. But, they have more than their occupation in common.
Both were sparked by an idea that led to large-scale diversification of their respective farms.
Smith and Rosenow shared the stories of their diversification journey at the Professional Dairy Producers business conference March 16 in Wisconsin Dells.
Smith was hauling a load of hay to his Vermont dairy farm on a hot Saturday when he noticed all the people driving by were off to spend their money somewhere. He thought they should spend it with him instead, and the idea for Moo Thru, a farm-direct ice cream shop, was born. Thirteen years later, Moo Thru has two locations, six franchises and four additional shared locations.
Rosenow was expanding his Buffalo County dairy when the concept of all the manure that would come from the cows inspired him to design a compost site as part of the expansion. Rosenow began Cowsmo Compost in 2005. Today, the compost material is sold in 22 states. A large portion of the business is supplying the organic trade in the Upper Midwest.
While their businesses are different, the dairymen shared similar feelings of determination and innovation to diversify their dairy farms.
When Rosenow started trying to sell the compost, he drove around with a truckload of the product and tried to sell it to retailers.
“There’s some kind of feeling when you go into a place and you make a sale,” Rosenow said. “You walk out of there and you have a big smile on your face and you kind of know you’re a … salesperson. But, that’s a different skill set that I never had being a dairy farmer, and I kind of liked it.”
Rosenow said, along with developing a marketing mindset, it is important to create a good product. The compost that is produced on his farm meets all organic requirements, even though he has a conventional dairy. The manure solids are separated and hauled to a 3-acre blacktop site. The piles are turned when they reach above 131 degrees. Once they are dried, they are formed into a finished pile and sold.
Most of the product leaves the farm in semitrucks, but it is also sold in bags at retail locations and on the Cowsmo Compost website.
Smith said that in order to achieve a good product consistently, people need to be willing to make sacrifices.
“I want people to patronize my product, and I’ll do that by not ever putting out a bad product,” Smith said. “My daughter makes all of our ice cream, and she has taken 25 3-gallon boxes and thrown them into the dumpster because she didn’t like the taste of them after it was frozen. You’ve got to be willing to sacrifice.”
When starting the ice cream business, Smith said his loan officer required a plan on paper. He talked with other ice cream store owners and got an idea of what equipment costs were but still did not have a concept of whether his plan would work or not. It was also an initial investment of half a million dollars, Smith said.
“You’re already leveraged because you’re a dairy farmer,” he said. “You’ve got to be willing to improvise and make adjustments.”
Smith started by renovating an antique store. He has expanded three times in 13 years. One event that propelled his growth was being featured on the Washington, D.C. morning news. Otherwise, his location on the corner of a four-lane highway offers exposure.
Both Smith and Rosenow said it took a few years to generate a positive cash flow. While it is important to them to have a successful business, they both make sure to have fun with their diversification projects. Smith said it was a big reason for going into the ice cream business instead of cheese or bottled milk.
“Everybody who comes to me for ice cream comes with a smile on their face,” Smith said. “I’ve never seen a grumpy person standing in line, and I’ve seen as many as 85 people standing in line at once.”
Rosenow shared a similar attitude regarding the compost product.
“One of the criteria when we started this is, any business that we’ve dealt with, it has to be fun,” Rosenow said. “If it’s not fun, then why the heck do it? So, this has been quite a ride.”
Along with a marketing mindset and a desire to make the job fun, Smith said it is important to keep an open mind.
“My wife lay in bed at night and said, ‘What are we going to do? Nobody’s going to come,’” Smith said. “And I said, ‘Well, it could always be a dentist’s office or a used car lot.’ So with that thought, you’ve got to be willing to improvise to make the adjustment work.”
Rosenow related to the feelings of anxiety through dairying but was more optimistic about the compost venture.
“There were a lot of times when we were farming that you stay awake a little bit at night, wondering if we are going to lose the whole thing tomorrow,” Rosenow said. “But the compost business wasn’t really like that. It kept growing, and it was always kind of a delight.”


You must login to comment.

Top Stories

Today's Edition



27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

To Submit an Event Sign in first

Today's Events

No calendar events have been scheduled for today.