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Bed & Breakfast,
Sheep = Good Business



By Tim King


If you ask Dick Regnery about his sheep he might begin his answer by telling you about his bed and breakfast in Wisconsin’s Door County. However, if you ask Keith Cooper about his northern Pennsylvania bed and breakfast he may well begin by telling you about the high quality fleece produced by his registered Corriedales.

At both Keith and Hilma Cooper’s Arvgården (pronounced Arv-gorden), and Dick and Gretchen Regnery’s Whitefish Bay Farm, shepherding and innkeeping are woven into one fabric. Although wool and lamb products constitute a separate source of income for each farm, both Keith and Dick see sheep as a complement to their innkeeping; or vice-versa.

Sheep Are “new” To Guests; Bring In More Clientele

“Our bed and breakfast makes more income than the sheep but the sheep have become a significant secondary income source,” says Dick, who has a flock of 125 colored and white Corriedale ewes. “Additionally, the sheep make us unique and are part of the bed and breakfast package. We do have people coming to stay with us because of the sheep. We also get some fiber artists and shepherds but most guests are people who want an on-farm experience.”

The Arvgården Bed & Breakfast.
The Arvgården Bed & Breakfast.

Part of the Whitefish Bay Farm experience is to offer a farm tour after breakfast.

“We don’t force the sheep on anybody but every day that we have a set of guests staying with us we will offer a tour,” Dick who has raised sheep and operated the inn for twenty years, said. “We’ll take a walk out to where the sheep are grazing. We’re doing rotational grazing and we tell them how that works and show them where the paddocks are. The sheep have become used to guests enough so they come up to get their head scratched. At that point we can get on our pulpit and talk about our type of operation and agriculture in general.”

Dick will tell his guests how he’s turned some unusually rocky fields into productive pastures. He’ll also tell them how he’s been managing his flock to produce top quality fleeces and why that’s important during times of low wool prices. And he might explain to them how he’s using artificial insemination to get access to some high quality Corriedale genetics from “down under.”

“We’ve had some well-educated people with strange notions of how things work on a farm; like being surprised that rams don’t have milk,” Dick says.

After the farm tour he offers guests the chance to watch him and Gretchen at work spinning or weaving in their combination studio/art gallery. Guests who enjoyed the sheep, he says, are often interested in seeing how wool is converted to fiber and fabric. That may create a commercial opportunity.

Laid-back Atmosphere; Extra Retail Wool Sales

“Part of our operation is to sell finished fiber products and that dovetails with the bed and breakfast,” Dick-who affirms that he and Gretchen sell the majority of the farm’s fleeces via the Internet-says. “Quite often, after a guest has met a particular sheep and that sheep has come up and greeted them, and then they’ve seen how their wool is made into fabric, they’re more inclined to buy a scarf from that sheep. They can associate not just with where the wool came from but with the actual individual.”

Keith and Hilma Cooper were weavers of wool before they were innkeepers. In fact, neither of them had farmed before they bought a farm near Wellsboro, in northern Pennsylvania, and opened an inn they chose to call Arvgården. The Swedish name means “Inheritance Farm.” It is called Arvgården, Keith tells guests, because he and Hilma learned to weave in Sweden and, when they began to consider buying sheep, a farm, and building an inn, their children jokingly cautioned them about protecting their inheritance.

Some white and coated Corriedales at Whitefish Bay Farm.
Some white and coated Corriedales at Whitefish Bay Farm.

Arvgården, the Cooper children’s inheritance, was built in northern Pennsylvania because Hilma had family in the area and because the hilly land favors sheep over row crops. But the location of a bed and breakfast is a crucial component of its success: Northern Pennsylvania’s hilly, wooded land also attracts tourists from nearby urban areas. And it was the Cooper’s luck that Wellsboro was shy on overnight accommodations.

“In early September (1999) we went to the Wellsboro Chamber of Commerce to meet with the executive director to ask about getting started the following spring,” Dick, who built the inn himself, said. “At that point we were living in the house but the guest rooms weren’t finished. The trim wasn’t painted and there weren’t knobs on the bathroom doors. The director said ‘You’re going to open for leaf season in October, aren’t you? People come here with no place to sleep and they end up having to sleep in their car.’”

To the Coopers’ surprise and pleasure they booked thirty-five room/nights that fall. The guests typically came on weekends. That allowed Keith to work on finishing the inn during the week.

“I think B & B people are special-they’re kind of flexible, and I think in in northern Pennsylvania, and opened an inn they chose to call Arvgården. The Swedish name means “Inheritance Farm.” It is called Arvgården, Keith tells guests, because he and Hilma learned to weave in Sweden and, when they began to consider buying sheep, a farm, and building an inn, their children jokingly cautioned them about protecting their inheritance.

Arvgården, the Cooper children’s inheritance, was built in northern Pennsylvania because Hilma had family in the area and because the hilly land favors sheep over row crops. But the location of a bed and breakfast is a crucial component of its success: Northern Pennsylvania’s hilly, wooded land also attracts tourists from nearby urban areas. And it was the Cooper’s luck that Wellsboro was shy on overnight accommodations.

“In early September (1999) we went to the Wellsboro Chamber of Commerce to meet with the executive director to ask about getting started the following spring,” Dick, who built the inn himself, said. “At that point we were living in the house but the guest rooms weren’t finished. The trim wasn’t painted and there weren’t knobs on the bathroom doors. The director said ‘You’re going to open for leaf season in October, aren’t you? People come here with no place to sleep and they end up having to sleep in their car.’”

Dick Regnery (standing on the left) with guests at the Whitefish Bay Farm.
Dick Regnery (standing on the left) with guests at the Whitefish Bay Farm.

To the Coopers’ surprise and pleasure they booked thirty-five room/nights that fall. The guests typically came on weekends. That allowed Keith to work on finishing the inn during the week.

“I think B & B people are special-they’re kind of flexible, and I think in some ways they got a kick out of this because they felt part of the adventure,” Keith, who built the inn and guest rooms in a Swedish style, says. “They’d walk into the guest room and say look at that-there is no knob on the door. For us it made a less stressful opening than if we’d waited until April when everything was finished and just perfect.”

Privacy & Time Out

The Coopers, like Dick and Gretchen Regnery, raise Corriedales with a strong emphasis on breeding for fleece quality. The registered Arvgården flock is smaller than the Whitefish Bay Farm flock, however. Both flocks fit nicely into the owner’s vision for their farm and inn. At Whitefish Bay, the Regnerys shut down during the winter and the lambing season. Dick says he and Gretchen need a break. Besides, he says, its tough to guarantee breakfast at 8:00 a.m. if you’ve been up lambing all night. At Arvgården guests are welcome at the inn during lambing season.

Keith, though he loves visiting with guests, made a definite effort to create a private space for himself and Hilma when he built the inn. He included a “Great Room” that divides their private quarters from the more public parts of the inn. There, he and Hilma do their weaving, sewing, and general sitting around. Guests aren’t exactly excluded but the family nature of the space creates a social barrier.

Theme & Ambiance

Privacy is important but Keith, like Dick Regnery, enjoys sharing his farm, and its Swedish ambiance, with his guests.

The Arvgården flock of Corriedales
The Arvgården flock of Corriedales

“We generally do chores around six and serve breakfast at 8:00-8:30,” he says. “Hilma usually cooks and I serve. We have a very large garden and any jams and jellies served on the table are from crops I’ve raised and jams and jellies I’ve made. There’s red currant, elderberry, gooseberry, quince, red raspberry. It’s all from stuff I’ve planted. We’ll pick fresh strawberries and fix them for breakfast. My favorite line is ‘I hope these are okay-they were nice and fresh when we picked them but they’ve been out of the garden for an hour.’ People tend to think strawberries are those ‘styrofoam things’ from California.”

Breakfast is also a time to show off the special Swedish dinnerware and accentuate the Swedish theme of Arvgården. To do that the Coopers even serve imported Swedish coffee.

After they’ve downed their last cup of Swedish coffee guests can visit with Keith and Hilma about sheep, fiber, and farming. And they can purchase some of the natural white Corriedale roving or yarn that the Coopers have made from their sheep’s fleeces. But, as at Whitefish Bay Farm, the bed and breakfast is not the main outlet for Arvgården’s wool and lamb products. The bed and breakfast supplements, and complements, the Cooper’s work with sheep. It is a necessary part of the total enterprise.

“Everything that we do here has a relationship,” Keith says. “The bed and breakfast is economically necessary because the farm is only 118 acres. In today’s agriculture you can’t make a living on 118 acres. You need supplementary income.”

Join the author, Tim King, for his on-line course Certified Organic Food: What is it? Who Grows It? http://www.suite101.com/course.cfm/18004/overview/229462

Tips On Starting A Sheep B & B

By Tim King

Starting a Farm-Vacation Bed & Breakfast business is a big step. That’s true whether you are already farming or if you plan to start both a farm and a B & B. Before you take the leap think it through carefully. Here are some points to consider.

  • Find out how much the business will cost you before you have your first paying guest. Then find out how long it will take to pay back your investment.
  • Find out what licenses and permits you need early in the planning process. If you wait until you’ve begun executing your plan it may cost you time and money. Before finalizing any property sale, make a visit to your local county, city, or town hall and check the zoning regulations.
  • Do you really want to smile at people all day long? Can you, and your family, really put up with guests in your house, and on your farm, any day of the week? If you think the answer is yes still try to create plenty of private space in your home for you and your family. You will need it.
  • Visit other innkeepers and ask lots of questions. Find out if there is a state or local bed and breakfast owner’s association in your area. If there is, seek it out.
  • Ask yourself: “Is there time to adequately do my farm work and run a high quality inn?”
  • Don’t overlook biosecurity concerns. During the height of the hoof-and-mouth scare Dick Regnery turned customers away who had recently been on English sheep farms. Now, people who have recently been on other farms are asked to wear plastic booties when they tour the farm.
  • Look for a theme that pleases you. Then develop it. Keith and Hilma Cooper combined their interest with wool, sheep, and things Swedish to develop a theme that makes their inn unique.

For more information on how to start a bed and breakfast contact the National Bed & Breakfast Association (NBBA), P.O. Box 332, Norwalk, CT, 06852. http://www.nbba.com>





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