Nicholson Family
This photo of the family of Neil and Carmen Nicholson of Dawson, ND, was taken in June. Shown are the parents with the Nicholson children with spouses and their children. The Nicholson’s sixth child, Mary Beth married Tyrell Kalberer. Shown are: Brian and Amanda Zimmerman holding Alettra (3 mos) and Tytan (2 1/2 yrs) with Denali (3 1/2 yrs) standing in front. Lydia and Norman. Brock (14 yrs). Daniel. Jenna. Neil and Carmen. Elliana (7 1/2 yrs). Mary and Tyrell Kalberer. Seth (4 1/2 yrs). Wesley and Kelsey holding Oliver (almost 2 yrs) and Isaiah (7 mos). Grace (12 yrs). Julia and Chris holding Flint (3 mos) and Ivy (1 1/2 yrs). Thomas. Ryan (15 yrs).

By Connie Sieh Groop

As a father, Neil Nicholson, 58, of the C Diamond Simmental Ranch at Dawson, ND, is blessed with a family of 13 children, ranging in age from 4 to 31. The oldest son ranches at another location and the youngest son has another year at home before kindergarten.  There are also seven grandchildren with another expected later this year.  

“With 13 kids, my wife Carmen and I have learned to be flexible and balance the responsibilities of raising children with the demands of a busy registered Simmental ranch. Ranching is a challenging business on a normal day.  Throw in a spring like the upper Midwest had: sick calves, snowstorms, late planting dates and you have a recipe for lots of stress.  We try to stay calm and use these times as teaching opportunities, reminding our kids:  1) This too shall pass. 2) Nothing worth working for is easy.  3) Some days you can only do so much and then you have to accept the outcome. 4) Our faith in God’s plan allows us to focus on Him and let the small stuff go,” he said. “We know we have to deal with the lows and the highs. On the ranch, you learn there is life and there is death. The kids learn that the reality of life is more than that of movies or games.”

Neil believes, “We have some things in our control. You can have a high bull sale average but if you don’t have your family, it’s not worth it.”

The farming/ranching lifestyle is outstanding, but it demands hard work. It offers many rewards and for Neil, his family is the greatest blessing. Love and respect for each other means allowing each child time to make decisions. Parents and siblings give advice as well as leading by example, creating family bonds with a good work ethic.

“We don’t encourage or discourage our children to choose this way of life,” Neil said. “We have given them years of learning this business. They have the opportunity to join us after going to college or working off-site for at least one year. Not every personality appreciates the high-stress life. So far eight children have graduated.  Six are currently active in ag or ranching. One daughter who isn’t ranching has two preschoolers who say, ‘We’re home!’ as the car turns off the blacktop to our ranch. That melts my heart!”

Joy comes from the interaction at all levels.  “It is such a privilege to work with the kids and watch their progress from daddy’s helpers to responsible young partners.”  

“Hearing the girls sing with their clear voices in church brings tears to my eyes,” Neil said. “I believe I have a relationship with my children so they can come for advice about the farm or about their personal life. You can’t be your kid’s best friend, but I want to establish a friendship with all. I value the times we have serious life discussions. I feel we have instilled a bond of respect in each of them.”

Neil’s father Wes, 86, who lives on the home place, is active in the day-to-day ranch activities. “My dad was from the era where affection wasn’t expressed in words. He was of the generation who was very work driven. He led by example and worked hard. He wouldn’t ask someone to do more than he would do. It was hard for him to show love. My aunt and uncle encouraged me to stop the tough love and show affection.  My wife Carmen works to instill that in me as a father.”

“As a father, I realize that the mother of my kids is a huge team player,” Neil said. “As my partner, she deserves more than we can ever give her. I am so blessed that way.”

One of the hardest parts of raising kids is trying to be fair and to help them understand peer pressure. Neil tells his kids, “Don’t keep track of how hard you work. When you work, don’t worry about how hard your brother or sister or classmate or teammate is or isn’t working. That only causes bitterness and doesn’t get the job done.” 

His advice to young people raising a family is to consider carefully the debt they incur. ”I would encourage young families to set realistic goals. With the money involved in cattle operations, it’s easy to let debt get out of hand and easy to become enslaved to the one who holds your note.” 

Stress is a big part of life. “I struggle to find time to do things with all the kids while getting work done. I try to go to sporting events and concerts. I have to keep in my mind I have to shut things down and go. The first-grade class at school had ‘Doughnuts for Dad’ at the end of the year. When I went there, my daughter had huge happy eyes. If I had not taken the time to go to the school, I could not see that. The work will still be here but it can’t form a memory like that. I want the memory.”

“When we work together, I have to adjust to the age curves,” Neil said. “It seems like I teach someone to run the baler every year. Sometimes when we’re out driving, I need help with gates. I assume that my daughter riding with me knows how to drive the truck. I forget that she drives the side-by-side but at her age, she’s never learned how to drive the truck.”

The best times are when the grandkids come home and the kids intermingle, filling the house with laughter and love.   

“It’s hard to put into words how good that makes me feel,” Neil said.

Connie Sieh Groop is a freelance ag writer. She can be reached at