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Eau Claire family expands dairy farm despite struggling dairy industry

Eau Claire (WQOW) — As dairy farm after dairy farm close their barn doors, an Eau Claire area family farm is bucking the trend — by expanding.

Miranda Nelson, her husband Derrick, and father-in-law Doug run Nellie Holsteins just south of Eau Claire. What started in 1895 as a small three cow dairy farm is now a 5th generation, 300 acre farm.

For the Nelson’s, it was either auction or expansion.

“To provide two incomes for our family, we had to milk more than 50 cows. So we had to expand and that’s what led us to this operation,” said Miranda Nelson. “Otherwise we were going to have to choose to sell the cows eventually.”

Now with a herd of 180 cows, the family farm’s growth comes as they watch several neighbors shut down their operations.

“I’ve seen people nearby that have had to close. The market’s been the biggest driver,” said Derrick Nelson.

“It’s something that you love to do,” said Doug Nelson. “You’re not really in it for money obviously. It’s something you have to want to do.”

The Nelsons spend three to four hours outside working in the field each day. But they said the real work happens inside the barn.

“Typical day, I usually get up about 4:30 in the morning,” said Derrick Nelson. “And the first thing we do is milk the cows and milk twice a day at 5:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.”

But when you labor with love, other perks follow.

“I’m basically my own boss. I work a lot of hours, but at the same time, I really enjoy what I do,” said Derrick Nelson. “I couldn’t really imagine doing anything else with my life.”

“We’re at each other’s throats sometimes, but overall it’s just the camaraderie and getting to see what our family can do and progress and improve within the dairy industry,” said Miranda Nelson.

So will Nellie Holsteins see a 6th generation of dairy farmers?

Miranda and Derrick say they hope so, and they’d love to pass it along to their future farmers.

If you’re interested in donating to family farmers here in Wisconsin, click here.

Katrina Lim

Katrina Lim joined the News 18 team in August 2019 as a multimedia journalist. She was born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey but has lived in all time zones of the contiguous U.S.A.

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