By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN - After years of showing cattle at the Minnesota State Fair, Ole and Greg Nelson of Dassel were selected to have their Jersey cows as the showcase herd this year.
Longtime Dassel farmer Orland “Ole” Nelson, has been showing his cows at the Minnesota State Fair since 1958, but never their actual herd.
Ole was actually recognized last year for 50 years of exhibits at the State Fair.
In 1963, Ole and his wife, Mary Ellen, bought the farm they call Marynole, as in “Mary ‘N Ole,” southeast of Dassel.
This was also where they raised their 10 children, who then went on to give them 25 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
In 2003, the Nelson farm suffered a barn fire, killing 71 of their registered cows.
This was devastating for the whole family since many of the cows were the grandchildren’s 4-H show cows.
It was not a complete loss though, for the Nelson farm.
Approximately 35 young stock survived the fire, (they were outside the barn) and are now part of the Nelsons’ 90 head of cattle.
“We’re rebuilding and getting close to where we were,” Ole said of the young stock that survived the blaze.
Today, the Nelsons’ heifers are housed at the old farmstead, and the milk cows are housed in Grand Meadow, west of Rochester.
The MN State Fair:A family tradition
For the Nelson family, showing at the Minnesota State Fair and other fairs across the state and nation is like a big family vacation, “even though it’s really hard work,” Ole said.
In the past three of the four years (including this year), the Nelsons have been honored as the premier exhibitor at the State Fair, meaning their top six cows had the most points.
What was unique about this year’s family vacation to the State Fair, was that 16 of the Nelson’s Jersey cattle were selected to be the showcase herd.
This was the first year ever for the Nelsons, which was an honor in itself.
They also had the added bonus of being the first to showcase their herd in the newly renovated Moo Booth located in the historic cattle barn.
New to the fair, the Moo Booth educates and informs the public about the farm-to-table chain of the dairy and beef industries, focusing on the animal side of the exhibit.
Each year, the fair rotates between the seven dairy breeds, Greg said. This year was the Jersey breed and Greg and Ole were selected by the fair board to showcase their herd.
Greg has been coming to the State Fair his entire life and was honored to have this opportunity, he said.
What Greg enjoys most about exhibiting at the fair are the people he gets to see from year-to-year and the camaraderie he has built with fellow exhibitors.
Being the featured herd, there is quite a schedule to follow.
For fair spectators, there were milking parlor demonstrations each day of the fair at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m., three of the Nelson cows were needed for this, according to Ole.
At 11:30 a.m. and 1:30, fair-goers had the opportunity to try and hand milk one of the Nelson cows.
At 12:30 p.m., the fair hosted a “Talk to the Animals” show, giving audience members fun facts about barn animals like the cows, pigs, and sheep.
“It was a busy day,” Ole said of each of the 12 days of the fair.
The schedule can get stressful to a point, Ole said, but found the overall experience worth the extra work.
Showing cattle is Ole’s first love, which is one of the reasons he enjoys the State Fair so much.
The second reason is getting to know the people there who are in the dairy industry.
“They become like family,” Ole said.
Also, it’s very rewarding to have the family involved in what he and Greg both enjoy so much.
“I’m lucky to have my family so close,” Ole said.
There were 25 family members who helped out with chores and the exhibit at least one of the 12 days of the Great Minnesota Get Together.
He also enjoys educating those who visit the Moo Booth about the dairy industry and on cows in general.
For Ole, being on the five local news stations, meeting dignitaries from around the world, along with Miss America, also helped make his 51st trip to the Minnesota State Fair a memorable one.