Supper Club Socials:  Lots of cow and people history

John Oncken

The Wisconsin Holstein Association (WHA) is a membership organization formed well over a century ago to promote the Registered Holstein breed and its breeders and owners. 

It provides members with the opportunity for statewide recognition and education through an adult and junior convention, district shows, a statewide championship show, top performer recognition and young and distinguished breeder recognition.

The socials

This year the WHA offered members an opportunity to hear two well-known personalities: Norm Nabholz and John Erbsen, relate some not so long ago dairy history from the insiders view at two Supper Club Socials. These first ever events were held at Beaver Dam and Marathon and offered a look at the Holstein industry through the eyes of two longtime dairy insiders each with intriguing and interesting dairy stories to tell. 

Apple with Norm Nabholz, left, and John Erbsen at World Dairy Expo.

Norm Nabholz owns Nabholz Farm at West Union, Iowa, that has owned and exhibited Jersey cattle at World Dairy Expo and other big dairy shows. He has judged major dairy shows across the country and in 1976 formed Nabholz Dairy Sales which has managed some of the biggest ever Jersey sales. He sells and brokers dairy cattle and in his spare time reads pedigrees at major cattle sales across dairyland. And, he’s a storyteller. 


Since Norm’s first visit to the long-gone National Dairy Cattle Congress at Waterloo, Iowa, he has been drawn to such dairy showplaces.

“I was captivated by it,” Nabholz said. “I remember everything, from the smells to the sights, sounds, and the people. It’s why I’m in the business that I’m in today.”

A book

His book “Millionaires in the Cornfield: The Glory Days of the National Dairy Cattle Congress,” recalled those days and “some of the greatest cows God created.” Nabholz said he wrote the book because the last great show at the Cattle Congress was in 1965, and he wanted to record the stories of the people who were there before that generation passed.

Change happens

Nabholz told of the great cows and people he had met over the years and how they got to be great. He also says change will and does happen and its changed dairying. His thoughts were well put in the Bullvine newsletter back in 2013:

John Erbsen, left, and Norm Nabholz  told the "Apple" story.

“Whether looking back or looking ahead, Norm is well aware that the only sure thing is that change is going to happen. “So many changes have occurred, some good, and some not. Technology has done so many great things to help with the care of cows and farming in general but perhaps has not helped create a new generation of cow people.  The last generation spent more time with their cattle and that meant they learned what made them tick. Knowing a cow's weaknesses made it easier to improve on them.” 

Considering technology somewhat further he makes two predictions and voices a concern. "Robotic milking will become the norm. Efficiency will be a word used more often than it is now. Something will have to be done with milk marketing in the U.S. The world will get smaller and smaller when it comes to genetics.”

For someone starting out, Norm looks back at his decades in dairying and points out a truth he has learned. “You have to love this business to survive. It will give you the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Being able to handle both will dictate how you survive.”

Not missing a word.

Nabholz told of the people and cows that he met, knew and worked with over the years who taught him about change and how to learn about and from it. He has established himself as a respected cow man as he sells cattle ranging from commercial animals to show cattle. He also shows and judges dairy cattle and reads pedigrees. It's obvious that he knows and loves dairy cattle and has a strong passion for the dairy industry.

Apple time

John Erbsen of Lanark, Illinois was a surprise speaker at the Beaver Dam Social — he was scheduled for the evening event at Marathon city but attended both events.

Erbsen has worked with Prairie States-Select Sires in their Mating Service and operating his own cattle photography business. He was also one of the original owners of KHW Regiment Apple-Red-ET, one of the most acclaimed cows of recent years.                       

This Red Holstein — who died just two months ago — began her trip to fame when Mike Deaver of Sherona Hill at Edgerton, who was at the KHW dairy at Belmont went to look at a Jersey cow for Norm Nabholz, saw the red bred heifer. He convinced Nabholz to help buy her. They then contacted John Erbsen to put the possible purchase together which did happen after considerable discussion — for $60,000. A partnership was formed with Deaver, Nabholz and Erbsen, among others, as members and Apple went to Sherona Hill to live.

After calving as a 2-year-old, Deaver entered Apple in both Black and White and Red and White Junior 2-year-old classes in the upcoming 2006 World Dairy Expo. Ultimately she entered the Black and White competition and topped the class of 31 animals. 

Apple, far right, topping the Jr. 2-year class at Expo on 2006.

In 2008, Apple sold for $1 million at the Global Glamour sale at Arethusa farm in Connecticut as the partnership of owners was rearranged. After that sale, Apple would go on to win Grand Champion Red & White at WDE in 2011. Deaver said when the partnership won a free cloning session with Trans Ova Genetics when Apple won as a 2-year-old, they took the sample right there at Expo. "We cloned that same tissue sample three separate times for nine calves. And, they all look like her, and they all looked like young cows.”

Among them Apple 3 would be the cow to deny Apple her second Grand Champion at WDE in 2013. 

“If you’re going to get beat, well, your clone doesn’t hurt you,” Deaver said. “And, I knew her clone was a great young cow. She had been Intermediate Champion in 2011 as a junior 2-year-old.”   

Apple was Reserve Champion, her clone Apple 3 was grand champion and daughter was Honorable Mention, a historic three-way Apple bonanza.

Erbsen explained that to date Apple-Red has produced 304 progeny: 253 females and 9 clones. She died Jan. 2, 2020. 

I don’t know if the WHA  will continue their Supper Club Socials in future years but I love local type history, especially that was lived by the teller.  

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-572-0747, or email him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.