Couple returns to the industry
Wienens’ farm has milking cows after one-year hiatus
Nick and Tatum Wienen take a break by the pasture May 16 on their farm near Galena, Illinois. The Wienens returned to the dairy industry in 2021. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER
GALENA, Ill. – Nick Wienen has always known his niche in life is milking cows. Even when his father sold the herd, a year had hardly passed before Wienen was back to dairy farming.
“I just wanted cows,” Wienen said. “I didn’t like the idea of raising calves, and I didn’t want to go back to being a mechanic again; it just didn’t make me happy.”
Wienen and his wife, Tatum, milk 80 cows in a parallel parlor near Galena. The couple started with their own herd in September 2021.
Wienen’s father, Tim, sold his herd of cows in 2020 when he discovered he had cancer. The cancer treatments left him unable to manage the 150-cow herd. Wienen was working full time on the farm at that point, and although he asked his dad to sell him 80 cows so he could continue farming, his dad opted to take a break from milking.
Wienen pursued a job off the farm but was helping his dad care for the remaining youngstock and farm 500 acres. When a heifer calved in, they would keep the calf and sell the fresh cow.
Periodically, Wienen asked his dad if they could start milking again.
“Finally, it got to a point where I asked myself, ‘What are we doing?’” Wienen said. “I didn’t want to see all those animals go away.”
Wienen decided to trudge forward with plans of milking cows again. When it came time for fall harvest in 2021, he chopped two bags of corn silage.
The plan was to start freshening in heifers and ship milk when enough was in the tank.
The family previously shipped their milk to Rolling Hills. When Wienen called to see if they could get back on the truck, the company was not encouraging.
“They said they weren’t really looking for milk at that point,” Wienen said. “We didn’t know what we would do if they didn’t take us. Finally, they called back a week later and said that since we had shipped there before they would take us back.”
With a market for the milk, Wienen’s dad encouraged him to find a group of cows to buy so the herd’s production was not solely reliant on the fresh heifers. After searching, they found a herd of cows close by to purchase.
“The guy we bought cows from was one who really didn’t want to see them go,” Wienen said. “He was glad to see a couple of young kids start milking though and has kept in touch and come to see the cows.”
The pipeline also had to be updated before the couple could ship milk again. Protocols changed since the first inspection many years prior, and certain things were not grandfathered in.
Daily chores are handled between the Wienen couple. Wienen’s dad helps as his health allows.
Tatum begins milking at 5:30 a.m. while Wienen scrapes the yard. By 7 a.m., Tatum goes home to get their children to school and day care, and Wienen’s father finishes milking.
One of the couple’s biggest challenges is farming and raising a young family. Tatum left her full-time job off the farm to care for the family because of a lack of day care options and Wienen’s parents also help.
“We knew what we were getting into, but we never thought finding help with the kids was going to be as hard as it was,” Wienen said.
Wienen and his father handle fieldwork as a team.
Wienen is grateful for his dad’s help but is careful not to rely too much on him because of his health.
“We don’t want my dad to ever do more than what he wants to do,” Wienen said. “We are very grateful for what he does.”
Wienen’s father purchased the farm in 1990, in a time when a lot of farms were going out of business. Wienen said his father’s desire to dairy farm proved skeptics wrong.
“He worked (hard),” Wienen said. “He ended up purchasing his home farm that he grew up on which is now a centennial farm.”
The couple also credits the few people who were supportive of their ambitions when first reintroducing cows to their farm.
“We had people tell us we were crazy for wanting to milk cows again,” Wienen said. “Our neighbor was one of the only ones who was encouraging and said he thought it was wonderful.”
The couple has found managing 80 cows to be a more comfortable workload than the 150 the farm was previously home to. For right now, the future plans are not extreme. They hope to keep the facilities maintained and might update as necessary in the future.