DIXON – Generations of Sheaffers have walked the green, rolling hills and deep hollows of Windsweep Farm.
They’ve lived off the milkfat of the land with their cattle. Specialty meats have been their livestock in trade. They’ve turned produce into profit.
And they’ve done it naturally.
The family farm located between Dixon and Sterling produces and sells specialty meats and other products, including milk-fed pork and chicken, lamb, eggs, seasonal produce, and unpasteurized milk.
The farm’s animals are raised in a self-sustaining environment. Their diet is vegetarian and their feed is homegrown and harvested onsite, supplemented only by the vitamins, minerals, and protein they need for a balanced diet. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hormone on the farm, and the only time antibiotics are used is when one of the animals is recovering from illness or injury. The livestock is raised humanely in a pasture.
Leonard Sheaffer, 67, and his daughter, Renee Sheaffer-Koster, 31, work together on marketing Windsweep Farm.
The fourth-generation family farm started with dairy cattle. Leonard’s grandfather, John Sheaffer, moved from Pennsylvania to the Sauk Valley in the early 1900s. Leonard’s father, Harold, started milking in 1946, and Leonard joined him in 1972.
Renee has also followed in her father’s footsteps. She started milking Holstein cattle when she was 14, and later moved into brown Swiss. Leonard sold his herd in the 1990s, and Renee moved into specialty products, partnering with her father.
The family now has about 100 head of brown Swiss and other cattle, including calves.
“I have more cows than I need,” Renee said as one of the cows ambled toward her and her children – Colin Koster, 3, Landon Koster, 2, and Evelyn Koster, 3 months.
When Renee was in college, she saw a documentary on milk-fed chicken, which inspired her to try the same idea with Berkshire hogs; she started feeding them extra milk from the farm and started selling the meat about 15 years ago.
“We don’t do butchering. We have our meat done at the Carroll County Locker in Lanark. I do have some pork done at Lena because people want nitrate-free pork,” Renee said.
Some of the extra milk is left unpasteurized for customers with dairy allergies who can drink unpasteurized milk, she said.
Brown Swiss cattle are easy to keep, and produce milk high in butter fat and protein. Renee said the cream can be skimmed off of the milk.
“My boys like to make butter with it,” she said.
Windsweep products can be bought at the farm or online. Renee said she’s sold items to That Place on Palmyra, and has customers in the Quad Cities and Rockford.
“We deliver twice a year to Grayslake. One person from California stopped and bought milk. I also sell at the Dixon Summer Farmers Market. People will buy quarters or halves. They can leave bottles of milk in the fridge and we’ll fill it up, or make appointments,” Renee said.
Leonard’s wife, Anne, 68, and their other daughter, Emily Sheaffer, 36, also help with the business.
“Renee was back out here a month after having Evelyn. It’s like it’s a passion,” Emily said.
Leonard also has another passion, one that he’s turned into a side business. With money from selling cattle, he started buying compact tractors and parts from throughout the U.S. and overseas.
“Some people in the South can buy a piece of ground for $1,000 and have a small tractor. I got into the parts end of it. I can find parts nobody else can,” Leonard said.
Leonard’s traveled as far as New York and Norway to hunt down parts, and has built up business relationships with after-market dealers and salvage yards. The most he sold in one month was $18,000.
“I’ve had parts made overseas. I had a guy in Hawaii who wanted to get a part, and I found it in Australia. There was one part missing from a tractor in Manchuria that I found in South Africa,” Leonard said.
As for the farm’s future, it looks like it’s in good hands. Renee said Colin likes to pitch in with a pitchfork, and Landon even lends a little hand feeding the cattle.
With future generations already putting down roots on the family farm, it looks like Windsweep Farm will keep on growing for years to come.