The Woldts house their animals at the farm of Roger and Becky Weisensel in Sun Prairie, Wis. Nick Woldt completed buying the Weisensels’ herd in 2007. 
The Woldts house their animals at the farm of Roger and Becky Weisensel in Sun Prairie, Wis. Nick Woldt completed buying the Weisensels’ herd in 2007. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
    SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. – Nick Woldt did not grow up a farm boy, yet his 55-cow herd is consistently ranked one of the top in Dane County for milk production. This first-generation farmer has come a long way in the past 15 years, achieving a rolling herd average of nearly 29,000 pounds of milk.
    Despite the fact that neither Nick nor his wife, Maria, come from a dairy farm, the couple has successfully built a high-producing herd. Picking up a lot of knowledge along the way, Nick worked at several farms before forming a partnership with Roger and Becky Weisensel in Sun Prairie, Wis., which allowed Nick to buy into a herd of his own and transition from farm employee to farmer.
    The older couple was looking to slowly retreat from farming and wanted to partner with someone interested in eventually taking over their herd. Nick went to work for the Weisensels on Nov. 1, 2003. After a year and a half, he bought in on a quarter of the herd, and by 2007, Nick owned the entire herd.
    The Woldts rent the buildings and buy the majority of their feed from the Weisensels. Nick and Roger help each other out, sharing fieldwork and other duties around the farm. Nick and Maria live offsite about a mile down the road with their 2-year-old daughter, Lexington.
    “Without Roger and Becky giving us this opportunity, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Nick said.  “They’ve been very supportive and helped make improvements to the farm, like adding headlocks, new barn curtains, and building a shed for hay. It’s a good partnership.”
    Nick’s passion for dairy farming began with his childhood. As a kid, he spent many summers on a dairy farm owned by his stepdad’s cousin. Even after graduating high school, Nick continued to help on the farm until taking a factory job in the Sun Prairie industrial park. He worked in the warehouse for two years, but it was hardly a match for this outdoorsy guy.   
    “I didn’t like being inside,” said Nick. “I wanted to be outside.”    
    Nick decided to quit the factory and take a farming short course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After earning his certificate, Nick worked on a dairy farm for several months before going back to the farm that first instilled his love for dairying to help out when the owner broke his leg. Nick soon learned the occupation that fit him best was dairy farming. He then came back to the area and worked for a custom grain and heifer raiser for five years before learning about the opportunity with Roger and Becky.
    “Nobody ever discouraged me,” said Nick, whose family fully supported his decision to farm. “My parents both grew up on farms that were sold in the late 1970s, so I guess farming skipped a generation in our family.”
    The herd’s current rolling herd average is 28,757 pounds of milk with 3.9 percent butterfat and 3.2 percent protein. He said feed and genetics have played a big part in getting milk production to this point. Adding a TMR 10 years ago significantly impacted success. Nick also maintains a low somatic cell count of 51,000, which has earned him higher premiums on his milk check.
    “When it comes to cattle, attention to detail is everything,” Maria said. “And Nick is meticulous. That’s why he can get these kinds of results.”
    Tuned into cows’ needs, Nick is a devoted cow man who keeps a close, constant eye on his herd, paying special attention to cow health. Nick regularly observes cow behavior and performance and is astutely aware when cow health is in jeopardy. If something is off, he investigates further to tackle problems before they escalate. Learning how to IV a cow greatly benefited Nick’s proactive approach, allowing him to treat cows sooner than what might have otherwise been possible and save on veterinary expenses.
    “It’s all about the cows,” Nick said. “As a dairy farmer, you try to do everything you can for the cows so they will be successful. Feed, water and cow comfort are top priorities. Providing cows with the best possible feed and plenty of fresh, clean water is critical to ensuring cows are equipped to milk their best.”  
    Maria works off the farm full time as director of industry relations for sister organizations Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative. Growing up in St. Paul, Minn., Maria’s love for agriculture stems back to her days of showing horses.  
    “I learned about agriculture at the fair from the FFA and 4-H projects located nearby,” said Maria, who obtained an agricultural marketing degree from UW-River Falls. “Every job I’ve ever had has been in agriculture or in the dairy industry, specifically.”
    Always open to new ideas, Nick finds it valuable to attend conferences and spend time on other farms.
    “It’s great to see how other farms do things,” Nick said. “If you pick up even one idea from a conference or another farmer, it’s well worth your time. There’s an amazing agricultural heritage in Dane County. Nearby farmers become your friends and are a great support system. We share equipment and best practices, and teach each other a lot. We want to see one another succeed.”
    To weather the long storm of low milk prices, Nick said they manage costs the best they can and keep debt down, which is made easier by not owning the farm.
    “The challenging weather we’ve had the last two years also adds to farm economy difficulties,” Nick said. “When you can’t plant corn until the end of May because the fields are too wet, and then you can’t get corn off the field in the fall because of rain, it affects production and that doesn’t help the milk price situation.”
    The Woldts custom raise about 25 head of steers, which has provided extra cash for the couple, who also raise all their bull calves to sell as 600-pound feeders.
    “Dairy farming is a very challenging, yet rewarding, career,” Nick said. “Many people don’t understand what it takes to get milk out of a cow – that it begins with putting seed in the ground, then harvesting the crops, feeding the cows, et cetera before you eventually get the milk. I find the whole process exciting – from start to finish.”
    Breaking into farming without a family connection is far from easy, but the Woldts made it happen and are enjoying success as farmers.
    “It took years to get to this level,” Nick said. “I love where I’m at. I know I chose the right path.”