Nigh family invests in technology on Viroqua farm

Amy Eckelberg
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation
Robert Nigh, who has been farming since he was young, says "Farming is what I know and what I love."

VIROQUA – Robert Nigh has been farming since he was young. While he helped with chores on his family's farm before that time, it was the death of his father shortly after his eighth birthday that propelled him into his forever career.

His brother, Randy, just eight years older, along with a farmhand, helped his family keep the farm afloat in-between going to school.

"Farming is what I know and what I love," said Robert.

As he got older Robert learned about his father through stories from friends and neighbors. Those tales helped motivate him to continue what his father started. More than ever, his father became a role model.

"I've been in partnership with my brother for 54 years," said Robert. "We think a lot alike and have a good relationship. He is not just my brother, but a friend."

Robert's son Ryan also works on the farm. Other family members including Robert's wife Betty, son Brady, daughter Rachel and son Brandon, who is an engineer, help with farm tasks when needed.

(From left) Ryan Nigh, Robert Nigh and Randy Nigh discuss the impact of rain on a pasture. The three work together on their farm in Viroqua.

"Everyone shares duties and does what needs to be done. I'm the guy who likes the numbers, so I handle most of the book work and tax preparations."

The diverse farm has goats, a small beef herd and dairy cows. The Nighs also bring in extra income through lumber and selling surplus corn and soybeans.

What might make the farm most unique is the use of two robotic milkers that allow the herd of around 110 cows to be milked whenever the animals choose.

The use of this technology was one that was welcomed, but under dire circumstances.

"In 2000, we built a milking parlor," said Robert. "We used that method (to milk cows) until we had a barn fire."

On June 13, 2016, the Nighs had to move their cows to a neighboring farm when their facility burned. While the fire was detrimental, it opened a new door.

The milking systems works via a mechanical arm mounted with lasers that scans the cow. It pinpoints the cow's teats before attaching four teat cups.

After considering multiple options, Robert, Randy and Ryan decided that the best fit for their farm was to build a new facility within the area. After considering age and labor concerns, the Nighs decided to install a robotic milking system.

About six months later, the cows were moved from the neighbors' barn into the new barn.

While the robotic system has made for different types of chores, it hasn't changed the chore load.

"We do the same amount of work but just different work," said Robert. "Now we are spending more time evaluating the data. It's nice because robots are consistent. Sure, they break sometimes but overall, it's been a good transition and smart choice for our farm."

The robotic technology allows the family to have more freedom to attend events and to volunteer.

Being involved in community and agricultural organizations is something that Robert thinks is important. Growing up he was involved in 4-H and FFA and later became involved in the Holstein Association, which led to serving on the National Holstein Board. Now, he serves as District 3 Director on the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Board.

Robert reviewed data files from the Lely robotic milking system they use. The system tracks the cows' health and milking records.

Robert has served on his local school board for 22 years and is a volunteer firefighter.

 "You can learn something from everyone if you just listen," said Robert who values each role a person plays in

an organization.

"I never thought I would have this many opportunities," said Robert, who graduated from the Rural Leadership Program. "I've traveled to Hong Kong, California, Washington, D.C. and so many other places because of being involved."

Being new to the WFBF Board of Directors he has learned that, "it's the people who make Farm Bureau what it is."

Getting involved through a neighbor who asked him to attend a meeting spiraled him into becoming a board member for Vernon County Farm Bureau and eventually being elected president.

"Every time I go to a meeting, I learn something," said Robert. "I've learned that Farm Bureau is complex because of the many programs offered, and our staff is amazing. Where else can you find this many opportunities and benefits for less than $100."

This story originally appeared in the WFBF's June/July issue of Rural Route.