MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Farmers for a weekend

At peaceful inns, guests relish the simple pleasures of country living.

Jo-Jo the dog greets guests at Dorset Ridge.

© Beth Gauper

For years, Jo-Jo the dog greeted guests at Dorset Ridge Guest House.

To a city kid on vacation, amusement parks are nice — but nothing is more appealing than a friendly wet nose.

Mewling barn kittens, curious cows, a trusty mutt — for a weekend one May, they were part of the family when my children and nieces and I stayed in the guest house of a Wisconsin dairy farm.

“Awesome,’’ my son Peter said after a Holstein nuzzled his hand. “I’m going to be a farmer when I grow up, after I’m in the NBA.’’

Around the region, simple childhood experiences once taken for granted — jumping on hay bales, chasing around a cow pasture, fishing in a creek — can be revisited at farm B&Bs, where children also have their own petting zoo of cats, dogs, lambs, horses, calves and rabbits.

“They don’t have access to their own farm, so this is their adoptive farm,’’ says Mary Doerr, who owns Dancing Winds Farm Retreat, a goat farm near Kenyon, in southeast Minnesota.

Children love to race around with her baby goats, seven of which were born this spring: “I always say kids love kids,’’ Doerr says.

Just west of the Twin Cities near Montrose, Catherine Rose grows berries and flowers, teaches classes and runs her landscaping business out of her “pleasure farm’’ on the Crow River.

She and her husband, Don Davies, have turned a suite in their house into Natures Nest B&B, from which guests can hobnob with three horses, three sheep, five cats, chickens, a three-legged dog and a rabbit.

There’s canoeing on the river and fishing in a creek, plus a swing and trees to climb.

“We’ve never had a kid be bored here,’’ Rose says. “It’s a farm! There’s a million and one things to do.’’

For my children, ordinary cats and dogs were thrill enough at Dorset Ridge Guest House, in the beautiful coulee country of southwest Wisconsin.

A girl gathers eggs at a farm B&B.

© Beth Gauper

A guest at Dorset Ridge Guest House in Wilton, Wis., gathers eggs for breakfast.

“I think the kittens are the high point of this farm,’’ said my daughter Madeleine. “The kittens and Jo Jo, of course.’’

Jo Jo the dog showed up one day at Dennis and Betty Boeder’s ridgetop farm near Wilton, to a lukewarm reception.

But she had an uncanny ability to read humans, and she made herself indispensable as their guest-house concierge — welcoming guests, making herself available for runs through the fields or barns, waiting to lick sleepy faces as soon as children get up in the morning.

“People have called to ask if we still have the dog before they book the house,'' Betty Boeder said. "One Dutch family had a girl who was scared of dogs, but when they left, they asked if we’d like them to ‘take her off your hands.’ ''

Jo-Jo died of old age in 2007, and Boeder says she's afraid to try to replace her.

"I don't think I'll find another dog like her, who is so good with people,'' she says. "She was one in a million.''

Our turn-of-the-century guesthouse was on a country road, a short walk from the Boeders’ farm. In the mornings, we walked over and collected eggs from the hen house, scrambling them in our kitchen and eating them for breakfast with pastries purchased from nearby Amish farms.

During the day, we rode our bicycles on the nearby Elroy-Sparta State Trail (for more, see Cycling in coulee country) and toured the countryside, visiting Amish farms, round barns and cheese factories.

Back at the farm, we’d wander into the barn to visit the month-old kittens who skittered across the hay-strewn floor between the cows’ hooves.

Outside, we performed a bovine pas de deux with cows in a pen — whenever we stepped forward, they’d shrink back, only to inch forward curiously when we’d retreat.

In the milk house, Betty Boeder explained how the milk runs through pipes from the cows into the plate cooler, then the bulk tank and through a hose straight into the milk trucks that come to pick it up.

Then she went into the cornfield across the road to pick rocks with Dennis and their daughter, Sheri. For a while, Peter joined them.

“If the whole world was like this place, it’d be great,’’ he said.

It was one of the most peaceful, relaxing weekends we’d ever had.

Spring is high season at many farm inns, with animals at the peak of cuteness.

“Everyone wants to see my baby kids,’’ says Mary Doerr, whose Kenyon farm is not far from Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park, one of the best places to see spring wildflowers.

Doerr says she patterned her inn after farm B&Bs in England, Scotland, Wales and New Zealand, where they are common.

“I fashioned it after what I would want,’’ Doerr says. “Darned if there weren’t quite a few people who wanted that, too!’’

Trip Tips: Farm B&Bs

The inns below are among those that include animals and welcome children of all ages.

Dorset Ridge Guest House near Wilton, Wis.: Guests stay in a very tidy, comfortable three-bedroom house next to Betty and Dennis Boeder’s farm, just northeast of Wilton, near the junction of I-90 and I-94.

Rates for a one-night stay are $90 for two, $80 per night for a two-night stay and $70 for three or more nights; additional people are $15 each.

The house has a fully equipped kitchen and sleeps up to eight. It doesn't have a web site; call 608-463-7375.

Dancing Winds Farm Retreat, Kenyon, Minn. This goat farm near Northfield, an hour and a half southeast of the Twin Cities, has a one-bedroom guesthouse that sleeps six; extensive breakfast supplies are left in the kitchen.

There’s a VCR, a deck overlooking a pond and a 60-foot tallgrass labyrinth. There are barn cats and a dog who loves to retrieve kicked soccer balls. Proprietor Mary Doerr is known for her artisan goat cheeses, 507-789-6606.

Natures Nest Organic Farm and B&B near Montrose, Minn. This farm on the Crow River has a river, creek, woods and orchards for children to play in, as well as many animals.

The guest suite has a private entrance and a wood-burning fireplace, whirlpool, refrigerator, microwave and DVD and CD players.

The rate includes a full breakfast. There's also a log cabin a quarter-mile away, with a screened-in porch, sun shower, composting toilet and wood stove. Guests can bring sociable pets; check with proprietors Catherine Rose and Don Davies, 763-972-6891.

Thunder Valley Inn B&B in Wisconsin Dells. This peaceful former dude ranch has goats, bunnies and a huge pile of white sand under a tree; other animals can be seen at the family dairy farm two miles down the road.

Huge breakfasts, Sunday smorgasbords and threshing suppers are served in the inn’s restaurant, which is a busy one. Guests stay in nine farmhouse rooms and a cottage.

The proprietors are Dells natives Anita, Kari and Sigrid Nelson, who often entertain guests on their fiddles. 608-254-4145.

For more about the area, see The quiet side of the Dells.

The Farmer's Inn near Viroqua, Wis. This is a working dairy farm in the beautiful coulee country southeast of La Crosse includes cows, horses, dogs, cats, a goat and chickens; guests can help with chores and gather eggs.

A Norwegian-style log cabin sleeps six in a bedroom with a queen, a loft with two twins and a queen sofa sleeper. It has a fully equipped kitchen, porch, gas grill and fire pit. Rate is $99 for two, $10 for each additional person 11 and older. Proprietors are Gary and Jean Bekkedal, 608-675-3553.

For more about the area, see Valleys of Vernon County.

Palmquist’s The Farm, Brantwood, Wis.: This 800-acre resort in north-central Wisconsin is known for winter recreation, but it also has ponds for fishing, nature trails and many animals — rabbits, calves, horses, cats on the farm and frogs and deer in ponds and fields.

Guests go on hayrides and scavenger hunts and learn to make homemade ice cream.

Lodging is in cabins, a new inn and the farmhouse, where everyone gathers for meals. The rate includes breakfast and dinner. Check-in is at 2 p.m. and check-out is noon. Jim and Helen Palmquist carry on the family's tradition of Finnish hospitality. Call 800-519-2558.

Rainbow Ridge Farms near Onalaska, Wis. This hobby farm B&B in the river bluffs north of La Crosse has llamas, goats, sheep, donkeys, chicken and ducks; guests can gather eggs and give bottles to baby goats.

It has four rooms from April through October, and rates include breakfast. Families can rent a room with a queen and a room with two twins. 608-783-8181.

For more about the area, see Bikes, birds and bogs and Hitting the trails in Trempealeau.

Last updated on May 4, 2011