From farm hand to the next generation on the farm, Nolan Wieber, the 2021 MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator Runner-Up, said yes to taking over Wieber Dairy in the future.
More often than not, saying yes is a lot easier than saying no, and saying yes also often comes with a lot more responsibility. It’s one thing to say yes to doing the morning milking a few days a week before school and a whole other thing to say yes to taking over the farm in the future. For Nolan Wieber, the 2021 MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator Runner-Up, he’s more than familiar with how a single yes can change the trajectory of your entire life.
From Farm Hand to the Farm’s Future
“I started working on the farm in eighth grade. I just milked, fed calves and helped bale some small bales. I was a lot smaller then,” Nolan shared. “Ken and Gary said I could barely milk. Gary always says the first time I milked, he looked over at me and just shook his head and was like, ‘What are we thinking?’”
From those small beginnings of working on the farm with his two uncles, Ken and Gary Wieber, on Wieber Dairy in Fowler, Michigan, Nolan is now the next generation on the farm and the conversations have since dramatically changed.
“I was a junior in high school when Ken and Gary asked me if I would take over the farm in the future,” Nolan said. “I had no idea that they were going to ask me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I think I was throwing around welding at the time.”
The two things that Nolan did know is that he didn’t want to work in an office, and he really enjoyed working on the farm. The unexpected proposition fit those two buckets and with a few weeks of thought, Nolan agreed to the deal.
“I remember my dad and I were fishing when I told him and he said, ‘Are you sure? That’s a lot of responsibility’ and I said, ‘Yea, I think so!’” Nolan said.
Saying yes to being the next generation on the farm led Nolan to realize how much there was to learn about running a dairy farm. “I started taking on more responsibility and driving tractor when I was 16 or 17, but honestly, I still didn’t know what was going on,” Nolan said. “I didn’t grow up here on the farm.”
To learn more about farming and the industry, Nolan pursued a dairy management certificate from Michigan State University (MSU) after graduating from high school. During college, he gained valuable experience in the classroom and interned at Lew-Max Dairy, owned by Aaron Gasper, fellow MMPA member, where he brought home many of the practices he learned there.
“One thing I learned at Aaron Gasper’s that I’ve implemented here is how we wean off calves,” Nolan said. “They used to get fed three times a day and no matter how much grain we were using, we would just take them off milk and put them in the barn. Now we wean them off slowly.”
During his internship, Nolan also learned a lot about cow care, the importance of walking pens and how to breed cows. All things that Nolan brought back and implemented on Wieber Dairy. With Nolan just an employee on the farm right now, approaching making changes is somewhat of an art form.
The Art of Addressing Change
“For the most part, I’ll bring up something I think can change, but I usually don’t push them to do it if they don’t want to,” Nolan said. “A lot of times I’ll just drop the seed.”
Nolan’s patience, respect for the generation before him and his easy-go-lucky attitude make him apt at working with his family. He also credits Dr. Joe Domecq at MSU for teaching him how to address changes on the farm.
“I try to be subtle about what I think should change. I’m not going to make them do anything. I can’t make them do anything. But I do the best I can with what we have,” Nolan said. “At the end of the day, they’ve been farming way longer than I have. It’s not like they’re not doing good. You see all these 100 cow dairies going out and we’re doing alright. They’re doing something right.”
Wieber Dairy is definitely doing something right. With an impressive track record of MMPA quality awards and Holstein Association Progressive Breeder awards, they are good at what they do.
“With employees, we’re kind of sticklers on making sure that cows get cleaned off good,” Nolan said. “With the calves, I usually try to remind them that the water needs to be hot and you need to make sure the powder gets mixed together.”
It’s the small things that always add up to contribute to milk quality, yet they always hope to keep things simple.
“We try to keep things low cost and keep things simple pretty much. I wouldn’t say we do anything real special,” Nolan said. “We’re probably more simple than a lot of other places. We fix all of our own machinery for the most part unless it’s something crazy.”
Ken, Gary and Nolan work as a team. They share milking shifts, cropping responsibilities and cow chores. And despite the hours they spend with each other, “There’s not a whole lot of arguing. We listen to each other and I do what the boss asks me to do,” Nolan said. “We work with what we have.”
This article was originally published in the November/December 2021 issue of the Milk Messenger. Subscribe »