A diversified dairy turns out products

Henschels’ sawmill, syrup businesses boost farm income

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STURGEON BAY, Wis. — In early March, a visitor to Cherryland Dairy Farm is greeted by the buzz of a saw cutting wood and maple syrup cooking to perfection. 

In addition to dairy farming, for the last 38 years, the Henschel family has operated a sawmill and collected sap from their trees to make syrup. At the helm of Henschel Sawmill is Jamie Henschel, wood cutter extraordinaire.

“Jamie is the only female sawyer of a circular sawmill that we know of,” said her husband, Mike Henschel.

The Henschels milk 50 cows and farm 600 acres near Sturgeon Bay. Mike and Jamie farm with their sons, Mark, Brian and Kevin, the fifth generation on the farm started by Mike’s great-grandfather in 1902.

The dairy barn built in 1908 is preserved in pristine red and white as the Henschels ensure their farm’s curb appeal with meticulous care and attention to detail.

Cherryland Dairy Farm is a family affair. Even Mike’s 83-year-old mom, Helen, helps with milking and fieldwork. Mark’s wife, Kylie, helps milk cows and pick rock.

This diversified dairy in Door County has much to offer its community. Wood from its sawmill, maple syrup from its trees, honey from its bees, eggs from its chickens, beef from its steers and pork from its pigs are the goods the farm supplies to its neighbors and beyond.

“We’re into a little bit of everything, and there is always something to do,” Jamie said.

A large expansion occurred at the sawmill in 2023 when the family put up a building, growing their mill from 900 square feet to 5,000 square feet.

“It was a three-sided building before, but now it’s enclosed,” Mike said. “We can saw inside, which has made it a lot nicer.”

The Henschels sell 250,000-300,000 board feet of wood per year.

“We always called this our hobby, but now we call farming our hobby,” Mike said.

Mike and his dad, Roger, established Henschel Sawmill on Memorial Day 1986. Semi-loads of logs are delivered annually to the mill from the Northwoods of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“Cedar and white pine are the main types of wood we work with,” Mike said.

White ash and poplar are the next most common followed by local hardwoods like maple, birch, red oak, cherry and black walnut.

Henschel Sawmill supplies a variety of dimensional lumber for countless uses. From building decks, docks and fences to re-siding barns to providing wood flooring, tongue and groove paneling, and shiplap for houses, Jamie said there is a need for many profiles.

“Everyone has different ideas about what they want to build, and we try to accommodate,” she said.

The Henschels do many custom jobs, cutting wood for trim work, flooring and shelves. They also offer design ideas if customers need assistance.

“Natural-edge countertops and fireplace mantels are hot items,” Mike said. “We make a lot of those.”

Most of the wood is sold locally to private property owners and contractors, but products from their sawmill also reach other states.

The before and after of their work can be seen in the piles of logs and stacks of finished wood that fill the yard in front of the sawmill, which is bustling year-round. Wintertime brings a push to stockpile wood when the family is not as busy on the farm. Projects like decks and Adirondack chairs make summer the busiest season at the sawmill.

“We’ll spend half the day at the sawmill and the other half baling or chopping,” Brian said. “We’re here pretty much every day except Sunday.”

Located a mile from the farm, the sawmill is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. by appointment. Despite the summertime rush, Mike said crops always come first.

The Henschels let no piece of wood go to waste. Scraps supply wood for fish boils — a popular Door County tradition — and slabs of wood are also used in the Henschels’ syrup-making process. Furthermore, wood scraps are turned into landscape mulch and sawdust for bedding animals, which is sold in horse and dairy markets.

Jamie took over the mill when Mike’s father passed away in 2002.

“I would’ve never thought of getting into it if it wasn’t for Mike and his family,” Jamie said. “I learned everything from my father-in-law, and now it’s time to pass the torch to Brian.”

In 2019, the Henschels phased out their cherry orchard, which had been a part of the farm for 90 years.

“Harvesting cherries was very time-consuming,” Mike said. “The mill got bigger, and we can’t do it all.”

When Mike was a junior in high school, he built a shack to make maple syrup and bottled his first batch in the fall of his senior year.

“I grew up helping my neighbors make syrup until someone suggested I build my own shack, and it took off from there,” Mike said. “It’s something to do in spring. Plus, I can’t stand the fake stuff on my pancakes.”

Mike started with 250 trees. Today, the family taps 1,500 trees. The syrup is made in February and March and sold at gas stations, feed mills and farmers markets. It is also available for purchase on the farm.

“This year was the earliest we ever tapped trees or cooked syrup,” Mike said. … “Mark is the main cooker now. It takes a lot of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, but our equipment makes it easier.”

The tagline trademarked by the Henschels, Something Delicious from Door County!, appears on every bottle of their syrup, which is primarily bottled in pints and quarts.

“We use glass bottles, which let the consumer see the product,” Mike said. “The bottle also features a flip-top cap for convenient pouring.”

The Henschels also make 400-600 pounds of honey every year, which is sold directly to customers and carried by local businesses. Brian has been a beekeeper since age 12 and manages six to eight hives. 

Mark manages the farm’s 40-sow farrow-to-finish hog operation. In addition, the Henschels have marketed beef for 40 years, raising every Holstein bull calf as a steer.

The family is a three-time host of the Door County Breakfast on the Farm and provides tours for third and fourth graders in the spring.

“This is our way to give back to the community,” Jamie said.

The Henschels have their hands in many facets of agriculture and thrive on producing quality products for others to enjoy. Their well-rounded farm relies on income from multiple sources, which has proved positive for profitability.

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