June 14, 2022 at 2:42 p.m.

Growing from within

Nelson family farms for six generations, counting
 Aaron, Andy and Larry Nelson discuss field work plans May 23 on their farm near Richland Center, Wisconsin. The family crop farms 1,500 acres. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER
Aaron, Andy and Larry Nelson discuss field work plans May 23 on their farm near Richland Center, Wisconsin. The family crop farms 1,500 acres. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER

By Abby [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

RICHLAND CENTER, Wis. – The Nelson family takes pride in passing the farm down to the next generation, something they have been able to do six times now.

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“I guess you do it because you love it and you want to pass it down,” Sherry Nelson said. “You think of it as being yours but essentially it’s not; you’re just being a steward of the land while you’ve got it.”
Larry and Sherry Nelson farm with their two sons, Aaron and Andy, near Richland Center where the family milks 200 cows three times a day in a double-12 parallel parlor. Since forming the Huff-Nel-Sons LLC in 2000, the farm has evolved and updated to increase efficiency for the future generations.
“My brother and I are just trying to do what we can to keep it going,” Aaron said.
Daily chores are handled between the four family members and two employees. The morning milking is done by Larry, Aaron and Sherry while Andy does most of the feeding. Two employees milk the second and third shift. Sherry is mainly in charge of the younger calves. The rest of the 240 youngstock are cared for by Larry, Aaron and Andy. Anything that needs to be filled in defaults to Andy and Aaron.
The family also farms 1,500 acres which is managed by Larry, Andy and Aaron.
“We are lucky to have seven grandsons who are all very active with the farm,” Sherry said. “As their ages allow, they take a tractor safety course and are a huge help with putting in crops and harvesting hay and grain.”
When Sherry and Larry took over from Sherry’s parents in 2000, the family was milking around 100 cows in two tiestall barns. After two years, a freestall barn was built with 150 stalls. Cows were walked down to the 38-stall barn to be milked, and calves were housed in the 60-stall barn next door.
“We started with 100 cows in the freestall and slowly grew from within,” Andy said. “We purchased maybe three or four cows and also bought a couple cows from my uncle’s herd when he sold.”
The calves remained in the same setup for nearly a decade before a fire destroyed the building in 2011. The Nelsons lost 32 heifer calves in the fire but were able to save three. Those three calves all grew to freshen in and one even lived to be 6 years old.
“There was quite a hole for a while without 32 heifer calves, but we had quite a few in front of that and behind it. And, we didn’t really notice it horribly,” Sherry said. “We were lucky.”
The family has used the remaining 38-stall barn for the calves since then.
For the milking herd, change has been almost continuous to improve on-farm efficiencies. Originally, the family installed an auto flow parlor in 2004 following two years milking in the tiestall barn with the herd housed in the freestall barn. As cow numbers grew, the parlor proved to be inefficient. It was replaced with a double-12 parallel parlor in 2014.
“When we got up to 150 cows, it was taking us a long time to milk and things were starting to wear out already,” Andy said. “We fought the parallel parlor at first but now we love it.”
Sherry agreed.
“We love the parlor,” she said. “As soon as the grandkids can reach the start button they are all helping with the milking.”
Installing the new parlor also allowed the Nelsons to update to an activity collar system. Information from the activity system gets stored in the computer and is something the farm has come to depend on.
“We milk our own cows in the morning so we see the cows then, but we felt better hiring people knowing that we have this system,” Andy said.
Andy said the herd health and timely breeding has improved with this technology too.
The Nelsons transitioned the cows to three times a day milking around the same time they built the new parlor. The extra milking was added in an effort to improve cow health since they were short on free stall space with 200 cows in 150 stalls.
“By milking three times a day it allowed more feeding time by moving them more often,” Sherry said. “With increased activity, their milk production increased which helped to offset the hired help wage. We still do it today.”
Sherry said the extra milking allowed them to hire two employees.
“We have two hired guys, and they are super,” she said.
The livestock facility allowed the cows to calve in on the same premise as the parlor.
“We made these improvements just to make our lives a little easier,” Sherry said.
The grain bin set up is used for storing extra corn fed to the cows but was mainly built to better market their grain crops, Sherry said.
“With drying our own corn and storing it, we can sell it in a more timely fashion,” Sherry said. “It has worked so well that we plan to build another bin later this summer. It was a good decision made by Larry and the boys.”
Sherry and Larry try to keep the farm updated so that future generations will want to remain involved in the farm.
“There is something about guys and tractors,” Sherry said. “My dad would have been so proud of what we have been able to do.”
The Nelsons do not plan to expand their herd anytime soon, feeling comfortable with their current setup.
“People would come in and say the small farmer is out,” Sherry said. “My heart was telling me we’re going to make this work. I look forward to what this next generation is going to do.”   


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