This series will highlight women who are actively owning or operating dairy farms around our great state of Washington. These women play pivitol roles in day to day farming operations; shattering the old stigma of dairy farming.
Nora Doelman is a Washington-native and former diesel mechanic and if someone would have told her she’d end up as a dairy farmer, “I would have said they were crazy,” laughed Nora.
Nestled between lush green meadows and rolling hills about 90 miles southwest of Seattle, sits Nick and Nora Doleman’s 1st generation dairy farm. If you’re ever invited onto the Doelman’s dairy, you likely won’t be standing around for too long. You’ll either be invited to climb up into Nora’s ‘baby’ a.k.a. her silage chopper and help in the field or you’ll be riding shotgun in the truck with one of her 3 kids gathering the cut silage.
From a young age, Nora had always been fascinated by equipment which led her to diesel mechanic school. Turns out, her future husband, Nick, who grew up on a dairy, was also interested in diesel mechanics because they met in one of their classes at Centralia College in Southwest WA. In 2008, they traded in their mechanics equipment for a dairy farm and started milking cows and in 2011, they purchased the farm they were working on.
Nora and her husband, Nick own and operate their dairy farm with their three children, Natalie (15), Hank (11), and, John (9). The 5 of them make an excellent team and run the farm like a well-oiled machine (pun intended).
Dairy farming is more than a full-time job, it’s a lifestyle. Nora’s responsibilities on the farm ebb and flow with the seasons, but right now is silage season (May-October) and she’s in charge of cutting/chopping their 600 acres. “This is my favorite time of year,” explained Nora. “I love being in the chopper and working with equipment so it is right up my alley.”
The Doelman’s take pride in being good stewards of the land. They don’t use commercial fertilizer on their silage, only the manure from their cows. They also have a Beddingmaster which turns manure into a compost which can be re-used as comfortable bedding.
Animal welfare also tops the list as a priority for their farm and technology has helped the farm be even more progressive.
“All of our cows have ‘fitbits’,” Nora explained. “These sync up with a system in the parlor so we can monitor each cow’s health daily. It tells us how much milk she’s giving, how much activity she’s gotten, and her temperature, all of which allows us to ensure they’re happy and healthy because happy cows are productive cows.”
Veterinarians and nutritionists frequent the Doelman’s to care for the cows and make sure they have what they need to stay healthy and productive. The vets and nutritionists regularly comment on how calm their cows are.
“We take great pride in that,” Nora smiled. “We want our cows to feel content at all times so the fact that these professionals, who visit multiple dairies a day, take notice of our cows’ comfort is really rewarding for us.”
“I love how technology has allowed women to play more of a role in dairying,” expressed Nora. “Now we don’t have to be able to bench press 200 pounds to be helpful on the farm. We can have technical knowledge or other skill sets which are vital to keep modern-day dairies running.”
While the cows keep her busy, Nora’s face lights up as she talks about one other job that takes precedence over most everything else on the farm.
“Being a mom is number one,” stated Nora. “My kids always come first. I love teaching my kids everything I know and watching them learn things on the farm.”
All three of Nora’s kids are active in 4-H and show some of their cows at the fair.
Farming and showing keeps the family busy, but they do manage to have time for a little fun—and this dairy family is made of athletes. If they have a free day to do something, you won’t find them on the couch watching T.V.
“We love family kayaking trips, surfing, and being outside,” Nora said.
Nick even runs 100 mile ultra-marathons. He trains when silage season wraps up for the Bandera in January and Badger Mountain Challenge in March. During those marathons, Nora supports him as his aid.
“I’m in charge of making sure he has the food and drinks he needs to refuel- like chocolate milk, whey protein shakes, and even pizza and burgers,” Nora explained. “It’s quite the experience for us, and we have fun doing it.”
The farm allows the Dolemans to have traditions that people living in the city might not get to enjoy, like summer camping trips in their fields or working on Christmas. That’s right–the family usually spends Christmas in the barns with the cows in order to give their employees the day off.
“Our employees are great and we want them to have Christmas to spend with their families,” Nora added. “Sure, it means we are up earlier than most and dirtier than most by the end of the day, but it is a great way for our family to celebrate together and lets our employees celebrate with theirs.”
Nora’s work goes beyond the farm, she is also President of the Grays Harbor County Dairy Women. The Washington State Dairy Women work to inform consumers about dairy through educational programs and events. The organization also works with young women in the community through an Ambassador Program which helps them develop leadership skills and teaches them how to be advocates for dairy.
“The Ambassador Program is my favorite part of being involved with the Dairy Women,” Nora explained. “These young women build confidence and so many professional skills. They leave the program with the ability to give a speech to a crowd of any number. It’s great to see them go on to become successful women.”
It’s safe to say, Nora is a jack of all trades when it comes to dairying. From diesel mechanics and cutting silage to being a mom and President of the Grays Harbor Dairy Women, she is doing it all.
Follow Nora’s Instagram page for updates on what’s happening at the Doelman farm.