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Washington’s Nora Doelman is a diesel mechanic-turned dairy farmer

Published on 08 November 2021
Nora and daughter Natalie

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,” laughs Nora.

Nestled between lush green meadows and rolling hills about 90 miles southwest of Seattle, sits Nick and Nora Doelman’s first-generation dairy farm. If you’re ever invited onto the Doelmans’ dairy, you likely won’t be standing around for too long. You’ll either be invited to climb up into Nora’s “baby,” also known as her silage chopper, and help in the field or you’ll be riding shotgun in the truck with one of her three kids gathering the cut silage.

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nick and Nora Doelman farm with their children

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 Washington. 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 Nick own and operate their dairy farm with their three children, Natalie, Hank and John. The five of them make an excellent team and run the farm like a well-oiled machine (pun intended).

Noelman's dairy herd

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 in silage season (May-October), she’s in charge of cutting and chopping their 600 acres. “This is my favorite time of year,” explains Nora. “I love being in the chopper and working with equipment, so it is right up my alley.”

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The Doelmans 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 an in-vessel composter, which turns manure into a compost that 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 explains. “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 Doelmans’ farm 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 says. “We want our cows to feel content at all times, so the fact 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,” Nora says. “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 that are vital to keep modern-day dairies running.”

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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,” states 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 TV.

“We love family kayaking trips, surfing and being outside,” Nora says.

Nick even runs 100-mile ultra-marathons. When silage season wraps up, he trains for the Bandera Endurance Trail Run in January and Badger Mountain Challenge in March. During those marathons, Nora supports him as his aide.

“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 explains. “It’s quite the experience for us, and we have fun doing it.”

The farm allows the Doelmans to have traditions 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 adds. “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 active in the Grays Harbor County Dairy Women, which works with young women in the community through an ambassador program that 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 [Washington] Dairy Women,” Nora explains. “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. Follow Nora’s Instagram page for updates on what’s happening at the Doelman farm:Instagram/nickandnoradairy  end mark

PHOTO 1: Nora’s daughter, Natalie, can be found helping with dairy farm responsibilities right alongside her mother, including fixing fence.

PHOTO 2: Nick and Nora Doelman farm with their children, including sons Hank and John.

PHOTO 3: Nora Doelman says her family takes great pride in hearing comments from veterinarians and nutritionists about how calm their herd is. Photos courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Washington.

This blog is reprinted with permission from Dairy Farmers of Washington.

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