June 27, 2022 at 3:56 p.m.
“Dairy promotion is in my blood,” Jim said.
Jim and his wife, Ellen, milked 65 Holsteins on their farm in Dimock. The Neugebauers have three adult children, Nichole, Larissa and Ben. Ben has been farming with his parents.
The Neugebauers sold their cows in May.
Jim has many fond memories from his decades of dairy promotion.
“I helped operate the Malt Wagon at Dakotafest for many years,” Jim said. “I was able to talk numerous political candidates into posing for milk mustache photos.”
The money raised from Malt Wagon sales is used for dairy promotion in the local area. This included such things as providing milk for kids on Santa Claus Days at the local armory and for high school after-prom parties.
Beginning in 2004, Jim was an instrumental part of the effort to install milk vending machines in South Dakota schools.
“We formed a charitable organization and used donations to fund the placement of milk vending machines in schools,” Jim said. “We have successfully placed milk vending machines in about 70 schools.”
Jim also enjoyed attending the Midwest Dairy national meetings and participating in its forums.
“I’m going to miss the forums and networking with other dairy farmers from across the region,” Jim said. “I’m also going to miss being a presenter for our local Ag in the Classroom educational program.”
Jim’s health crisis began with a stomachache on the evening of Jan. 12.
“I thought that I had eaten some bad chili,” Jim said. “But it soon began to hurt so bad that I asked Ellen to take me to the Mitchell hospital.”
Doctors in Mitchell quickly determined that Jim’s condition was critical. Within hours, Jim was transported by air ambulance to a Sioux Falls hospital. It was determined that Jim had suffered a strangulated hernia and perforated bowels. Jim underwent an emergency operation that removed 4 feet of necrotic intestine. The doctors also extracted 7 liters of food and body fluids from Jim’s chest cavity.
Jim’s recovery was anything but smooth. He endured serious setbacks, including a second surgery to repair his bowels. He was put on a respirator three times.
Jim’s family stayed at his side as much as possible. Nichole and her husband, John, flew in from Chicago and spent several weeks in Sioux Falls, often driving to the Neugebauer farm to help with milking and chores.
Larissa helped as much as she could, and neighbors assisted with the morning milking and chores.
“When he first got sick, Dad’s lactic acid level was incredibly high,” Larissa said. “A level of two means that you are septic and a four is thought to be lethal. When Dad first went into the hospital, his lactic acid level was 6.5.”
Ellen said he was immediately put on a respirator and could not speak.
“We got a spelling board, and he pointed to the letters that spelled ‘tank,’” she said. “We thought that he was trying to say thanks to everyone.”
Jim said that was not the case.
“I was worried that Ben wouldn’t put the cleaning agents in the milk tank washer,” Jim said. “I always do that but hadn’t the night I that went to the hospital.”
A week after his initial surgery, it was discovered that Jim’s bowels were leaking and that some of his intestines at the repair site had died. Another operation had to be conducted.
Larissa said that as Jim’s carbon dioxide levels spiked, he would hallucinate.
“He would move his arms in a particular way, and we figured out that he was milking the cows,” Larissa said. “He often thought that he was floating or that the TV was on the floor or that a cow was in his room. The third time that Dad was put on a ventilator, they gave him a tracheostomy to make it easier to hook him up.”
Every time Jim came to, Ellen said he would ask three questions.
“Are my cows safe? Is my farm safe? Where am I?” she said. “There were a lot of moments when we weren’t sure if Jim would make it.”
“I’m lucky to be alive,” he said.
Due to coronavirus-related restrictions Larissa said Jim could only have only two visitors at a time when he was in the intensive care unit.
“The hardest part about being in the ICU was seeing so many COVID patients dying alone,” Jim said.
Jim spent several weeks of his recovery at a long-term acute care facility.
“By the time Dad left Select Specialty, he had taught all of the doctors and nurses the secret dairy farmer handshake,” Larissa said. “When they learned that we were from Dimock, they said that they loved Dimock cheese. We went to the Dimock Cheese store to buy some cheese for the nurses, and when we went to pay for it, we were told that it was already taken care of. That’s just one example of the support we received from the community.”
On April 5, after 83 days in the hospital, Jim was discharged. Jim said he cannot take anything by mouth; an IV provides all of his hydration and nutrition. The long medical ordeal has left Jim 100 pounds lighter.
“We were planning on exiting the dairy business anyway,” Jim said. “We were starting the transition into beef production by breeding our cows to Hereford bulls. After milking cows for 41 years, it was a bittersweet day when the cows left.”
Ellen said she is glad the cows did not go to slaughter.
“Our cows went to a dairy farm north of Parker, so they are still being milked,” Ellen said.
Jim plans to remain active with the MDA until his replacement is nominated.
“This past winter when MDA had their annual meeting in Phoenix, I gave the noon luncheon prayer via Zoom from my hospital bed,” Jim said.
Despite his ongoing health challenges, Jim remains a farmer to the bone. Larissa said the day after the cows left, Jim learned they had a field that needed to be worked.
“We wrapped his IV lines in (plastic) wrap, and I used the skid loader to lift him up to the tractor cab,” she said. “He was the happiest man in the world as he sat in that cab.”
The day that Jim was released from the hospital, his driveway and farmstead were filled with pickups and cars. The vehicles honked in unison, welcoming Jim home.
“I don’t know how to say thanks to all the people who volunteered to help or gave money,” Jim said. “The outpouring of support has been very humbling.”