Homegrown: Platteville family offers eggs, beef as sixth generation of Wisconsin farmers

Oak Hollow Farm

Location: Platteville, Wis.

Items offered: Beef, eggs, baked goods

Products sold at: Platteville Farmers Market

Contact: 608-331-7288


The Telegraph Herald’s Homegrown feature highlights vendors who sell at tri-state area farmers markets. If you have a suggestion for a vendor for us to feature, send an email to elizabeth.kelsey@thmedia.com.

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Caroline Kilian dropped an armload of hay into the feeding trough in her family’s barn in rural Platteville, and four large shorthorn cattle eagerly began devouring it.

“There you go, babies,” she crooned, patting one of the cattle on the nose.

Her father, Kerwin Kilian, grabbed more hay to add to the trough, as a flock of ducks quacked in their pen outside the barn, having just received their own meal of grain and ground corn.

Kerwin and his wife, Melissa Kilian, along with their daughters, Caroline, 15, and Clara, 17, are kept busy each day caring for the animals on their rural Platteville property, known as Oak Hollow Farm. In addition to the herd of just over 20 cattle, the farm also is home to about 30 chickens, 25 ducks, 10 cats, two horses, a dog and a herd of goats.

For the past two years, the family has sold beef, eggs and baked goods at Platteville Farmers Market during both its winter and summer seasons.

“We’re all introverts in this family, but I love being able to connect with people — in a condensed amount of time — and hear their stories,” said Melissa. “It’s been fun building up our clientele … and I get (cooking) ideas from our customers all the time.”

Launching the farm

The Kilians moved onto their rural Platteville farm around 2002, according to Kerwin, and began fixing up the property’s buildings immediately. Several of the barns on the 80-acre property were built in the early 1900s and needed plenty of repairs to make them serviceable as modern farm facilities.

Neither Melissa nor Kerwin was raised on a farm, but as a child in rural Minnesota, Melissa had plenty of farming neighbors. Kerwin, meanwhile, was raised in Platteville and grew up visiting the nearby farms owned by his aunts and uncles. He is the sixth generation of Wisconsin farmers in his family.

“And I want to be the seventh generation,” said Caroline, smiling. “I love the animals a lot. It’s always something that’s appealed to me. I like working on tractors with my dad, and I’ve always been an adventurous and outdoorsy type.”

The Kilians purchased their first chickens and ducks in 2012 and started their cattle herd in 2016.

Five years later, they began selling their wares at Platteville Farmers Market as a way to increase the audience for their beef, which they recently had begun butchering at a shop in Fennimore, Wis.

Some of the farm’s most popular offerings include brats, hamburger patties and meat sticks, as well as a variety of steaks, such as porterhouse, T-bone and New York strip. Several customers also regularly ask for beef liver, and others purchase bones for making bone broth to be used in soups.

In addition to selling beef and eggs, Melissa bakes breads, scones and croissants that the family also sells at the market, with flavors such as squash, herb and cheese, cinnamon raisin and more.

Brian and Laura Brown, of Platteville, are regular customers at the Kilians’ stand at Platteville Farmers Market during the summer, purchasing steak and ground beef, as well as eggs and baked goods.

“You just can’t beat the flavor, and I like how they run their operation. They’re a small family farm, and I like to support that kind of business,” Brian said. “ … I just ate their scones today at lunch, Melissa makes excellent croissants, and my wife likes their squash bread. It’s very good, and it’s very fresh.”

Home on the range

The Kilians’ cattle are primarily grass-fed and finished, though the animals also eat a grain and protein mix during the winter.

“They’re a docile breed and have some very nice markings,” Kerwin said of his reason for choosing shorthorn cattle. “They’re very calm and very easy to work with — sometimes a little too calm when we want them to move along.”

The birds have no such problems. While the ducks and chickens are kept in pens during the winter, they are allowed to roam free-range during the warmer months, and the ducks sometimes wander down the road to visit the neighbors.

“We had a bunch of ducklings hatch last summer, and three of the moms took care of them as a group and would just lead them down the road on a walk,” Melissa said, chuckling.

The family sometimes will butcher a chicken or duck for their own dinner table but does not sell the birds’ meat for customers. Instead, they focus on the eggs — mainly chicken eggs, but Kerwin said the ducks will lay eggs roughly three times each year, which also are popular with customers.

As Caroline poured out a grain mixture in one of the farm’s two chicken houses, the birds clucked noisily, jostling for a position at the feeders.

“If we get a new (chicken), we really have to work to introduce them,” Kerwin said. “The pecking order is a true thing here.”

The Kilians have a wide variety of breeds, including Ameraucana, Welsummer, Orpington and Barred Rock chickens. Each breed produces eggs of a different hue. The Welsummer, for instance, lays deep brown, “chocolate-colored” eggs, according to Kerwin.

Caroline and Clara show chickens and ducks at the local fair each summer as part of 4-H. This summer, Caroline also plans to show her cow, Sunny, whom she bottle-fed after the calf lost its mother.

“I like being with the animals and getting to ride horses, learning how to take care of them,” Clara said.