Still true to farmers, feed mill taps in to local food trend

Family owned Saukville Feed Supply — the last mill of its kind in the county — continues to cater to the ag industry while expanding its offereings as times change

SAUKVILLE FEED SUPPLIES — the last feed mill in Ozaukee County —has been operated for the last 60 years by members of the Laatsch family. They include (from left) Nick Laatsch and his wife Kay, their nephew Adam Debroux and Adam’s mother and Nick’s sister Lisa Laatsch. (Right photo) Employee Dan Fenner checked out a few of the 200 chicks that the mill offered for sale last week. Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Feed mills aren’t just for farmers anymore — although that’s still their bread and butter.

They are the place for farmers to get feed mixed to their specifications — while catching up on the local gossip — and for 4-H members to gather supplies for their animal projects.

But they’re also a place where people can buy bird feeders and wind chimes and where schoolchildren and city residents interested in the local foods movement can learn what it takes to raise urban chickens — and pick up a chick or two.

Just last week, Saukville Feed Supplies hosted a group of students from Saukville Elementary School who were entranced by the chicks at the business. 

Almost 150 of the week-old chicks were bought by people interested in raising urban chickens within a day of their being placed for sale, co-owner Lisa Laatsch said, adding the business had held a seminar on raising chickens earlier in the week.

It’s all in a day’s work at Ozaukee County’s last feed mill.

Tucked in a once-industrial area on the village’s west side, Saukville Feed Supply Inc. has been adapting to the changing demographics of the county while staying true to its core mission serving the county’s agricultural community.

“Family owned and operated mills are going out,” Nick Laatsch, co-owner and feed mill manager, said, noting they’re increasingly being replaced by cooperatives. 

Now in its 60th year, Saukville Feed Supplies is the definition of a family operation. 

Nick oversees pricing and is the mill manager, while his sister Lisa takes customer orders, they said. Nick’s wife Kay does invoicing, while Lisa’s son Adam Debroux is in charge of the mixing and bagging operations.

“But all of us can do every job,” Nick noted.

The business — the third oldest in Saukville, they said — began in 1958, when Nick and Lisa’s father Fred bought the business. He married the next year, and as the family grew the children got involved as well.

“I was born into the business,” Nick said. “I played in the corn. I was the cleaner, the sweeper.”

“I have pictures of me sitting on the lawn over there when I was 9 months old,” his sister added. “We have horse-and-buggy pictures of customers coming here.”

Luckily, it’s a business the siblings love.

“I’ve never had another job,” Nick said. “I’ve never filled out a job application, never wrote a resume.”

Every day is different, the family said, and although the days are long —Nick said he gets in about 5 a.m. to go through invoices and often doesn’t return home until 5 p.m. — it’s rewarding, they agreed.

The business employs 10 people today, but when their father bought the business, he did it all. He mixed the orders and bagged them, then delivered the feed to farmers. He would write receipts and orders by hand, spending Sundays balancing the books.

Over the years, the business grew. In 1982, their father bought the neighboring property from Tri-Par, they said, and in 1987, he bought the Port feed mill from Rich Harns.

“They had a grain cleaner and corn cracker he didn’t have,” Lisa noted. 

The family ran the Port operation until 2002, when their father died.

“It was too much without dad,” Lisa said.

After their father’s death, the siblings took over the operation and have continued to expand it.

“Since dad’s gone, we’ve tripled the business,” Lisa said. “I think he would be proud.”

Sixty percent of their business comes from dairy farms, they estimated, and 10% from landscapers who pick up salt in winter and grass seed and fertilizer in spring. Hobby farms and horse owners make up the rest.

“We have a great local community that comes in for deer food,” Adam said.

They even have their own brand of bird seed they mix using a recipe purchased by their father from Thiel’s Mill in Slinger.

“We can go through a ton of that a day,” Lisa said, noting that in winter they probably sell 10, 50-pound bags of the bird seed a day.

Saukville Feed Supplies fills orders by the bag or by the load. Feed is mixed to specifications.

“It’s almost like baking,” said Adam. “We have a recipe. You put it in the mixer for five minutes and bag it up.”

If they want, farmers can bring their own grains in to be ground and used in the feed, Lisa said.  

In addition to grains, there are specialty items in the feed. Some are for nutrition, such as the cotton seed that adds fiber and oils to dairy feed. Others are simply for the taste, such as the “sweet crumbs” used in some feeds.

“That’s what it is,” Lisa said. “Sweet crumbs.”

“Animals like tasty foods, too,” her son said, noting that, depending on the additives, some feed smells like molasses and some like cherries. 

 “Animals are picky,” Lisa added. “If you change up the feed for an animal, they’ll turn up their noses — ‘What is that?’”

Although Ozaukee County has fewer farms than in the past, Lisa noted, the cow count has remained the same for decades

“We’ve got a lot of great little farms we work with,” Nick said. “We try to cater to the customers. We do what we can to get them in and out because everyone’s in a hurry nowadays.”

It’s the people that make the business special, the family agreed.

“My favorite thing here are the personal relationships,” Adam said. “We talk to our customers and get to know them. A lot of our customers remember the day I was born.

“There aren’t many businesses that have that, where you grew up together.”

And while many farms today are getting larger, Nick said he’s content remaining a relatively small operation catering to farmers in about a 30-mile radius.

“Everybody tells me I should get bigger,” he said. “I don’t need that. I don’t want that stress. Smaller is better to me. I want to keep everybody busy and pay the bills. I have a life.”


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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