April 25, 2022 at 1:58 p.m.

Women in Dairy: Amanda Nicholson

Amanda Nicholson (pictured with her husband, Aaron)
Sheldon, Wisconsin
Rusk County
80 cows

Family: My husband, Aaron, and I bought our farm in 2001. We have two children. Our daughter, Ashley, 20, is attending a local technical college to pursue a welding certification. Our son, Alex, 21, attended technical college for agronomy and has since joined us on the farm.  

Tell us about your farm. We milk about 80 Holstein cows three times a day. We milk in a tiestall barn, and the cows are housed in a rotation of tie stalls and free stalls. We have two excellent employees who help part time and a supportive extended family who often pitch in. We raise dairy steers as well as replacement heifers. We own about 240 acres and rent additional crop land. We primarily grow corn and hay for use on our dairy as well as occasionally some small grains.

What is a typical day like for you on the dairy? Our milking schedule is normally 5 a.m., 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. In between milkings, manure is scraped and hauled, feed is mixed and fed, cropping is accomplished, and the many other tasks required to maintain the farm and care for the livestock are fit in. I typically handle the bookwork and recordkeeping in the evenings after chores are completed. In addition to working alongside our farm team, I also work as an emergency medical technician for the Rusk County Ambulance Service. The past two years have been challenging in the world of healthcare, and we have done a lot of juggling to balance the increased demands of my job with the needs of the farm. I typically hold between 500 to 600 hours of call time a month for our local ambulance and respond to EMS calls from the farm when paged. As the calls are unpredictable, I have often left in the middle of milking, feeding or even left a tractor in the middle of a field when a page comes in. Fortunately, our whole team is acclimated to this scenario and typically jumps in and takes over for me when needed.

What decision have you made in the last year that has benefited your farm? We built a heated shop on the farm which has made maintenance and repairs easier and less expensive to accomplish. It has also made operating manure and feeding equipment much easier in the winter months as we can avoid dealing with frozen equipment every day. Additionally, we constructed additional youngstock housing for weaned calves to reduce overcrowding and post-weaning lag in growth.  

Tell us about your most memorable experience working on the farm. Every day on the farm is memorable. Farm life creates memories of successes and failures and of joy and grief. Farm life is unique in that it requires dedication, perseverance and presence on a daily basis to be successful and meet all of the challenges. It makes getting away difficult. What I find most memorable is how supportive our families and community have been of us. Over the years, our families and friends have accommodated our farm life by having holiday and birthday celebrations on the farm so that we could participate in, and enjoy special moments, instead of stressing out about how to get away. As our children were growing up, so many neighbors, friends and community members helped us with getting the kids to sports practices and club events on time. Often, they pitched in to help us get done in time to attend events or took over so we could get away when needed. While the events were enjoyable, the comfort and security of knowing we had the gift of that support is what I find most memorable.

What have you enjoyed most about dairy farming or your tie to the dairy industry? The most enjoyable thing about dairy farming has been the relationships and friendships I have made along the way. Farming hasn’t been a singular experience but rather a culmination of a great team. We work closely with so many people to make this all come together and work. Getting to work with, and become friends with our employees, milk haulers, vets, nutritionists, agronomists, inspectors, sales representatives and so many others who are passionate and dedicated to our industry has kept me inspired and motivated.

What is your biggest accomplishment in your dairy career? Managing, handling and caring for animals has always been intuitive to me. I am not naturally mechanical, and operating equipment is something that I found intimidating and a little scary. Learning to understand and operate equipment safely and proficiently was something that I had to work at for a long time. I wanted to be able to step into any role on the farm if needed and be able to perform well. Equipment operation was my big hurdle to overcome. I am definitely not as proficient as a lot of people, but I am much more competent, comfortable, and if need be, I can get the job done. I’m proud of that.

What are things you do to promote your farm or the dairy industry? I often share the story of our farm life on my personal Facebook page and on our farm page. I have participated in advisory committees for our local technical college. I also chair the Farm Service Agency county committee. Most importantly, I engage with people who are curious or concerned about the dairy industry. Allowing people to have a personal connection to what happens on a farm and within the industry is the best way to garner support and give an understanding about what we do. It’s rewarding and fun.

What advice would you give another woman in the dairy industry? Build a team of people you can support and who will support you. At some point you will need the help. Along the way, you will succeed, and you will fail. Carry your successes like badges of honor, be proud of your accomplishments and learn from your failures. Be humble, grateful and thankful. Others will appreciate it, and you will too.

When you get a spare moment, what do you do? I don’t think there are spare moments per say; rather, every moment matters and has a purpose. I usually have a pretty full schedule, but to relax, I like trying new hobbies and experiences. I have done some cake decorating as well as designing and creating greeting cards. I also enjoy reading when time allows.


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