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Nisens Milking Their Dream


by Holly Hahn Yoder

Published: Friday, February 9, 2018

Before farmer match-making services came on the scene, there was Purdue University. At least that's how Leesburg area dairy farmers Rich and Kristin Nisen met. They were both in the animal sciences school for different reasons. Rich said he always knew that he would work in the dairy indus-try.

"I always thought it would be nice to milk a small group of elite cattle, but you never know," said Rich.

Kristin originally was on the pre-veterinarian track. Unfortunately for Kristin, her allergies to horses, cats and hay caused her to look for another career path.

However, Rich's ambition was clear from the eighth grade on. Though his grandfather, Abner Brown, had sold out his Flowing Well herd the year before Rich was born, Rich had the dairying gene. At the age of 14, he came up with the prefix Nise-N-Fancy in church one Sunday. The same year, Rich bought his first registered Holstein heifer in partnership with his brother, Rob. Ironically, both the calf and his wife were from the Chicago area, and both shared the Kristin name, but the calf's name, was spelled with an e.

The two brothers raised the money for the calf and for future calves by growing and selling melons and sweet corn from self-serve wagons around the county. Rich's herd continued to expand because his cows tended to birth heifers. In high school, he had to make a tough decision for any Hoosier—play basketball or work to pay for his young stock un-til they freshened and produced income. Rich worked through high school and college for such Elkhart County dairymen as Russell Stark, Willie Mast, and Mike and Myron Oesch. These men housed his Hol-steins at different points until Rich was finally able to strike out on his own.

At Purdue, Rich noticed Kristin in a class they were both taking. Kristin turned him down the first time Rich asked her on a date. It took a whole year before he got enough courage to ask her out again. This time she agreed and they clicked. Even their first date was dairy centered, as they went out for ice cream be-fore seeing a movie. Kristin graduated first and worked at a paralysis research center until Rich earned his degree.

After they married in 2001, Rich worked as a dairy cow nutritionist and Kristin was employed at a bank. About the time they were ready to start a family, an old farm west of Leesburg became available. The Nisens' herd had grown to 12 milking cows by then. Even though the house and barn were dilapidated, the Nisens optimistically made the transition.

"I cried. I cried for a long time," said Kristin. "There was no heat in the house and the wallpaper was falling off the walls and no ceiling."

The barn wasn't much better. Even though there were tarps covering parts of the roof, it seemed to make little difference.

"When we would be milking out in the barn, you could tell what the weather was from the inside. The lights would be smoking because moisture would get in there," said Rich.

The Nisens put a new roof on the barn and cleaned up the house. Kristin and Rich welcomed their first child who was later joined by a brother and sister.

Kristin always milked the herd right up to her due date. Rich does travels for his job. More than once, a pregnant Kristin had to solve the problem alone. About the time their middle child, Oliver, was due, their homebred, nominated All-American cow was having a difficult calving. Rich was gone, so Kristin had to deliver the calf out in the pasture without any help.

"I remember pulling and pulling and thinking I got to do this or this child is going pop out of me at the same time," said Kristin.

Kristin also does all the inseminating for the herd. Rich tells her which bull to use and she determines the due date. She tries to avoid having cows calve in the winter. At this time, they are only milking about 20 cows as about a third of the cows are either dried off or going dry.

Milking time is family time for the Nisens. Each person knows their job. Even 4-year-old Addison scrapes manure in the gutters just like her older brothers.

"They know exactly what to do once they go out there. There's not much talking once we get choring. Once we start milking, that's when we catch up what went on during the day," said Rich.

The two boys are busy with school, sports and 4-H. The couple have to juggle practices, games and club meetings around milking time. Rich and Kristin have been 4-H dairy club leaders in Elkhart County. Rich welcomed the opportunity to give back to 4-H in payment for all the benefits he experienced during his 4-H years. He particularly credits Dave Blough for getting him involved in dairy quiz bowl and dairy judging teams.

Although Kristin is still a leader, Rich has moved over to the dairy advisory board, serving as president this year.

As any dairy family knows, taking time away from the cows for a vacation is not easy. However, the Nisens are avid Chica-go Cubs fans. They try to take the family to at least one game a year. Their fandom has also led to some interesting names when they register their cattle. They have chosen names like "Centerfield," "Cubs Win," or even player names such as Arrieta, Bryant or Rizzo.

The biggest adjustment to farm life has been for Kristin's family.

"It was hard for them to get used to it, that they had to come here for Christmas," said Rich.

Now, Kristin's family will come for a week on the farm during the Christmas holiday and a couple of times in the spring and summer.

"They love it. The kids want to play hide and go seek, see the cows, learn to milk the cows," added Kristin.

Kristin's brother is always looking for a project when he comes to visit. During one stay, he helped install cam-eras in the barn so the Nisens can monitor the barn from anywhere.

Rich's brother, Rob, still helps out on the farm, especially when the Nisens take a short break. The World Dairy Expo is a must attend on their family calendar. Some years, they have a cow to show; some years they simply watch.

Although rural Internet access and speed has been a hot topic lately, it is not an issue for the Nisens. When they first moved to the farm, the Internet service was slow and undependable. Fortunately, a few years ago, a DSL service was extended out to their farm from Leesburg, stated Rich. Not only does this make a difference in his day job, but this helps as they register and market their dairy cattle.

Rich and Kristin have fulfilled Rich's dream of developing a herd of home-bred elite cows. Over the last 25 years, the couple have bred 29 excellent cows. By the end of this week, the herd will be classified again and the Nisens hope that number bumps up to at least 30.

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