Nelsons continue testimony in stray voltage trial

BROWN COUNTY — Rural Sleepy Eye dairy farmers Jill and Brian Nelson testified in a civil case alleging stray voltage issues caused them damages greater than $50,000 in Brown County District Court Wednesday.

The Nelsons claim they suffered $297,840 in genetic sales losses alone from 2011 to 2018, according to documents filed in the three-week jury trial against the Brown County Rural Electrical Association (REA).

Under examination from plaintiff’s attorney Jeremy Stevens of Rochester, New Ulm Regional Veterinary Center Large Animal Veterinarian Dr. Nancy Peterson said stray voltage can make cows uncomfortable, nervous, affects their immune system, creates lameness, causes them to not eat or drink well, kick excessively, and suffer other illnesses.

Peterson said she visited Olmar Farms more than 200 times over the past few decades.

“They have a very nice barn. If I died and was reborn as a cow, I could go to that new barn,” Peterson said. “It’s well-lit, clean, has a well-thought out design and has fresh feed. Brian and Jill are very good managers. They’re concerned about their cows, paying attention to details. They notice things and take action.”

Peterson said she saw stray voltage evidence at the farm including cows lapping water but not drinking it, spraying it all over the place, and cows that didn’t respond to conventional therapy.

“Something was stressing them out,” Peterson said. “I suspected stray voltage.”

Under cross-examination from defendant’s attorney Mark S. Henkel of Stevens Point, Wi., Peterson testified she is not an electricity expert.

Peterson agreed that other things like social order and rations can be a source of stress for cows and that dairying is an incredibly complex business, highly competitive and unrewarding.

Under examination from plaintiff’s attorney Jeremy Stevens of Rochester, Jill Nelson testified that their farm operation suffered several types of losses including milk production, dairy cattle, genetics, private, consignment and national convention sales due to stay voltage for a number of years until May 2017 when three-phase power and the proper transformer were installed on the farm.

Nelson testified that one of the farm’s cows was ranked fourth-best overall and sold for $38,500 at a national convention sale.

Under cross-examination from Henkel, Jill Nelson testified that the farm has electric fences only in it’s pasture and that the fences don’t harm cattle.

Nelson testified that their cows didn’t have “complete milk letdown,” that 10 pounds of milk remained in cow udders after they stopped giving milk until the stray voltage issue was solved in May 2017.

She testified that she and her husband made many changes on the farm after consulting with many people including the REA, on how to deal with their cow issues but nothing really improved cow health until 2017.

“We looked for all the other reasons first. The REA kept saying we didn’t have stray voltage but the cows told me something else,” Nelson testified.

Under examination from attorney Stevens, Brian Nelson testified he was the facility manager, doing maintenance and repair work plus book work on the farm. He said he enjoyed doing crops, which he learned to do from Jill’s father.

Brian Nelson testified that when visiting new dairy farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin before deciding how to build his own new dairy barn in 2009, he found very little cow manure in other parlors and holding areas.

“We had so much manure in our parlor and holding area, we had to haul out manure daily in our new barn,” Nelson testified.

The jury trial continues at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

(Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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