September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
The downs have included the bank not being willing to give them a loan to start dairy farming, erratic dairy prices and Nick having a cancerous brain tumor.
The ups have included being able to dairy farm together, amazing help and support from their family and friends, and purchasing their own farm just a few weeks ago.
Jessie's parents, Tony and Mona Adams, had gotten out of dairy farming when she was a freshman in high school. Jessie continued to be involved with the dairy industry by working on dairy farms throughout high school. After graduation, she attended Buena Vista University for business. After just one year she realized how much she missed dairying, so she transferred to Iowa State to major in Dairy Science. After college, she began working on a 400-cow dairy as a herdsman.
Nick worked on the beef and crop farm that his parents, Gary and Barb Westhoff, operated, and a local dairy farmer throughout high school and during college. He attended Kirkwood Community College and received an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Ag Production Management. He worked as a herdsperson for six months, and then took a full time job with Three Rivers FS hauling LP and doing custom application.
Although Nick and Jessie knew each other in high school, they didn't start dating until they were in college. They were married in June 2007, and that fall they bought a herd of 42 beef cows from his grandparents.
They were both working full time, Jessie as a herdsperson and Nick with Three Rivers, while managing the beef herd. They decided what they really wanted to do was farm together full time, and dairying would be the best way to do that.
Nick's grandparents, Floyd and Betty Westhoff, had dairy farmed until 1997 and Nick and Jessie were able to work out a rent agreement with them for the dairy barn that had been sitting empty.
One of Nick's co-workers gave them a lead on a herd that was for sale near Elkader, but the bank would not give them a loan to update the dairy barn. Fortunately, Nick's parents were able to help them out.
"Everything fell together and my dad was able to get the ball rolling," said Nick.
The couple was able to get funding through FSA for the cattle, but Jessie added, "If his parents hadn't helped, we couldn't have done it."
Nick quit his job in the spring of 2009 to work on getting things ready. The work included tearing out the stanchions and putting in tiestalls, putting mats in the barn, putting tile down in the manger, putting in two large fans for tunnel ventilation, putting in a pipeline, putting up a feed bunk and making the milkhouse bigger.
On their two-year anniversary in 2009, they started milking 63 cows. They were thankful they were able to purchase heifers from the same person they bought the cows from as his youngstock matured. They were able to expand their herd size this way until their own replacements started coming in.
That first year was tough, and they had to borrow money to pay bills. They soon were able to get their feet under them and the financial experiences that first year helped them in the long run.
"We knew how stingy we could be and that made the rest easier," Jessie said.
Nick's dad grows the crops for them in exchange for a percentage of the milk check. This has been a big help recently with the high commodity prices.
The young couple is not ready to invest large sums on machinery, so the arrangement works well for now.
The rent agreement between the couple and his parents also has allowed them use of a loader tractor. This year, Nick and Jessie bought their own tractor and spreader for manure, which his dad is able to use when he needs it.
They often work together to get field work done.
Things were going pretty well for the young couple. Then in the summer of 2011, their lives were turned upside down. One summer night, Nick started talking gibberish and then wandered outside. He started having a seizure, and Jessie called 911.
A CAT scan found a mass, which turned out to be a cancerous brain tumor. He underwent a 10-hour surgery and had 34 radiation treatments over several months.
Nick and Jessie's families stepped up to the plate without hesitation. Their parents and siblings, along with their siblings' spouses, were there whenever needed for milking and chores, and staying with Nick, who initially could not be alone.
"It was difficult, and sometimes felt like it was touch and go, but you do what needs to be done," Jessie said, noting that the help from their families and the community helped a lot.
It took a full six months for Nick to be back to full time farm work. He now has to have an MRI every four months, and earlier this month he was once again given a clean bill of health.
They were milking up to 100 cows the first year they milked, but with the help of their nutritionist they were able to formulate a ration that allows them to milk fewer cows and still have the same overall pounds of milk. They like to be milking about 78 cows, which is the capacity of their barn so they don't have to switch cows.
Their cows are averaging about 75 pounds of milk a day, and last summer got up to 80 pounds. They do not have a TMR mixer and instead they component feed. Their ration consists of corn silage, haylage and alfalfa with a grain mix and a top dress for high producers.
"We like feeding top dress," Nick said. "When the cows are at peak production they still maintain their body condition."
Their component levels are such that they receive quality premiums from Swiss Valley, as well as good incentives for their low somatic cell count. Their SCC average is well below 200,000, and prior to Nick's treatments, it was below 100,000.
Jessie has three sisters. Her sister, Vicky, dairy farms with her husband, TJ Kolker, near Garnavillo, and her sister, Misty, dairy farms with her husband, Eric Vogel, near Athens, Wis. Her sister, Chris, works for Consolidated Grain & Barg, and she was a great help when Nick was receiving treatments.
"She helped save our operation," said Jessie, adding, "we wouldn't have been able to do it without all of our family members."
In 2012, Nick and Jessie were honored as the Clayton County Outstanding Young Dairy Producers.
Nick and Jessie find joy in working together. Some couples have a hard time adjusting to being together all day every day, but it works well for Nick and Jessie.
"I think it brings us closer to each other," Nick said.
In fact, working side by side is one of the things he really likes about dairy farming.
In the next few years, they hope to put up a shed so they can have all their stock on the farm where they milk.
On Dec. 28, Nick and Jessie sold their beef herd to help fund buying 130 acres from his grandparents.
"It's nice to say this is ours," Jessie said. "We can make the decisions and deal with the consequences; that's all part of it."
"We are 27 years old and we own our own farm. That's pretty cool," Nick said with a smile. "We can work it together and enjoy what we are doing."[[In-content Ad]]