Farmer details dairy problems in stray voltage trial

NEW ULM — A woman whose family owns a Registered Holstein dairy operation near Sleepy Eye testified for seven hours Tuesday in a civil case alleging stray voltage issues nearly put the family farm out of business a couple of years ago.

Under examination from plaintiff’s attorney Jeremy Stevens, Jill Nelson of Olmar Farms testified that converting electrical service on the farm to three-phase power at their own expense in 2017 solved the stray voltage issues that power testers for the Brown County Rural Electrical Association (REA) said were not present on the farm.

She testified that the power testers told her if there was stray voltage, it was on the Nelson’s part of the farm.

Brian and Jill Nelson are seeking more than $50,000 in the case that began Tuesday and is scheduled for three weeks.

Jill Nelson testified that even after three-phase electric power was installed in 2017 at their own expense, cows didn’t not behave normally until a non-isolating transformer was replaced by an isolating transformer on the farm two years ago.

“Cow health drastically improved immediately after the fix,” Nelson testified.

She earlier testified that a power brown-out in April 2011 caused lights on the farm to flash on and off, then go out.

“We hooked up our (power) generator to milk,” Nelson testified. “That was the start of the hell we went through. The brown-out wrecked our milking and transfer pumps and a toaster.”

She testified in a wavering voice how the cows wouldn’t drink water, had muscle weakness, laid down and wouldn’t get up.

“The cow kicking got worse after the brown-out. It was ‘get away from me, I want to kill you’ kicking,” Nelson said. “We tried to stop the (cow) kicking with kicking bars, but the cows broke them. One hit me in the head, so we tied their legs with rope. I saw a cow drink from a puddle of urine. I’ve never seen that before.”

Nelson testified in a wavering voice again, “in early 2017, we were at the end of our rope. I felt like a complete failure. I told Brian we had to find out what was going on or we were done.”

After asking a number consultants and friends for help, Nelson said talking to a veterinarian friend led to her Wisconsin Master Electrician Larry Neubauer.

“He had lots of wires and hooked them up to things before telling us we had stray voltage bad enough to affect cows and it came from the power company’s side,” Nelson testified. “He said we should bring three-phase power to the farm.”

Nelson later testified that after the power and transformer change were done on May 1, 2017, cow issues went away and milk production improved greatly.

Olmar Farms received the 2017 Elite Breeder Award. It is bestowed annually upon a living Holstein Association USA, Inc. member, family, partnership, or corporation who has bred outstanding animals and made a notable contribution to the advancement of the Holstein breed in the United States.

A 1989 Sleepy Eye High School graduate and valedictorian, Jill (Marti) Nelson was a member of the school’s FFA national championship dairy judging team. At the University of Minnesota, she was president of the Gopher Dairy Club, a dairy judging team All-American, and traveled to Australia to meet dairy farmers.

“I fell in love with meeting dairy farmers in other countries,” Nelson testified.

She created a workbook that was published by the American Breeders Service, based in Madison, Wi. Nelson worked for three years as a project and promotions specialist at the company, touring more than 300 dairy farms in the U.S.

“I did lots of networking. It helped me establish genetics on our farm,” Nelson testified.

She later worked as a nutritionist and consultant near Madison before meeting her husband and moving home with him to operate the family farm and start a family.

The jury trial continues at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Nelson will be due for cross examination.

fbusch@nujournal.com

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