Cows, candy go hand in hand

Sweets business complements dairy herd

MAUSTON, Wis. – When Keilah Powers finishes farm chores in the mornings, she switches hats and heads to her aunt Dee’s candy shop, where she manages the business in between milking cows.
“I love that I get to make something I’m proud of both at the farm and at the shop,” Keilah said.
Keilah is in a partnership with her brother, Bill, on the family dairy. The siblings milk 32 cows and have a herd of 30 beef cows at her family’s farm in Juneau County near Mauston.  
Keilah begins her days by milking at 6 a.m. Her father, Steve, helps care for the youngstock while Keilah milks. Bill gets to the farm around 7:30 a.m. after getting his four kids where they need to go for the day.
“He’s great,” said Keilah of her brother. “He’s always had his beef cows, and I prefer my dairy cows. He takes care of anything that needs doing around here while I’m at the shop.”
The candy business, Powers Candies, started as an antique shop in 1972 in Wisconsin Dells, where the siblings’ aunt and uncle, Dee and Kieran Powers, sold antiques and wool in the summer. The gentleman they rented the store from suggested putting candy in the store and selling fudge.
“Uncle Kieran never turned down an opportunity to try something new,” Keilah said.  “Plus, he had four daughters at home who he thought needed an occupation to stay out of trouble, so he thought this was a good idea.”
Kieran and Dee found a fudge recipe in a church cookbook that they liked and started making fudge. When that went well, they expanded into making other candies. After almost a decade of renting a store and working through the summers, Dee retired from 40 years of teaching and moved the candy business to her converted garage, where it became a year-round venture.
“It worked out in the end,” Keilah said. “This year will be the shop’s 50th anniversary.”
Keilah began working in the candy shop when she was 15 years old. When Dee’s health started to decline, Keilah took over more responsibility, and now, she manages every aspect of the business along with her cousin, Mary Louise.
“The only thing I cannot do alone is make fudge,” Keilah said. “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a two-person job.”
A 20-pound batch of fudge takes about 40 minutes to make from start to finish. It begins in a 3-4 gallon electric kettle that works similar to a bulk tank. The fudge ingredients – evaporated milk, caramel, butter and sugar – are added to the kettle and set to a temperature while an agitator stirs the contents. Then it heats up to 238 degrees and is dumped onto a steel table with steel bars on the side that hold the contents into a square. Unsweetened chocolate is added along with marshmallow cream. Depending on the variety of fudge, additional ingredients like nuts or mint are added as the fudge is flipped over and over until it sets up. It is then put into boards that make it look like a bread loaf. After about three minutes, the mold is broken down and a chunk of fudge is the result.
“Everything is done by hand,” Keilah said. “It’s all made fresh, and we don’t use any preservatives.”
Since the business operates out of Dee’s garage, store hours are minimal, and a majority of business is pre-orders. The candies are stocked in some stores around the Mauston area. The busiest time of year is the holiday season from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31.
“One year, … we sold over 2,000 pounds of candy in those eight weeks,” Keilah said. “I work at the shop seven days a week during that time. Fortunately, Bill is here and handles all the barn chores so I can just milk and leave.”
The dairy cows and the beef herd are all rotationally grazed. The farm is home to around 100 acres of pasture. The dairy herd is fed a portion of grain in the barn every day. Through the winter months, they are fed triticale, silage and small squares of hay.
The beef herd is strictly grass fed. Previously, the calves were sold at weaning, but Bill is fattening out his own cattle this year in an effort to begin direct marketing beef from the farm.
“We already sell produce from the garden and eggs from our chickens,” Keilah said. “Our plan is to put a shed down by the garden and put a freezer in there to direct market our beef.”
The shed will also serve as a spot for Keilah to work on accounting for the candy business.
The produce and egg sales are currently made possible with help from the siblings’ mother, Jane.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for my mom, we probably wouldn’t make anything at all,” Keilah said. “I pick everything and get it ready to go in bags, but she’s here to handle anybody who stops in.”
The siblings hope to offer the first beef for sale this fall. Until then, it will be life as usual balancing cows and candy.
“I love this farm and this candy shop,” Keilah said. “I’m proud to be part of both of these families’ legacies.”


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