December 09, 2023

Beef industry giant Nichols dies at 84

The beef industry is mourning the loss of a giant after the passing of Dave Nichols last week.

Nichols, co-founder with his father, Merrill, of Nichols Farms — one of the largest seedstock operations in the country — passed away Nov. 4, a few weeks shy of his 85th birthday.

According to his obituary and those who knew and loved him, Nichols was one of the remaining pioneers in performance from the 1950s who “blazed a path for a new type of beef industry that was based on science and selection.”

Nichols was particularly known for never taking his eyes off the horizon, always looking for new ways to participate in research that would move both Nichols Farms and the beef industry forward. This started by putting an ad in the newspaper guaranteeing that Nichols bulls would not sire dwarf or red calves. His family farm’s legacy carried on from there as Nichols Farms kept their own careful, detailed record on each animal that came through their farm.

Nichols met his future wife Phyllis at the Adair County Fair. They were married in 1965 and she passed away in 2021.

His brother and business partner, Lee, passed away in 1982, and a large part of Nichols Farms’ past is the team effort that it took to carry on the business after that occurred.

Nichols believed his family not only included blood relatives but his loyal employees, other close friends and customers.

A memorial service was held in Atlantic Friday, Nov. 10. In the days following, a few people close to Nichols in various ways were willing to share a few memories about him with the newspaper, though it an understatement to say there are likely many, many others who could also share stories of the legacy Nichols leaves.

Mike Sorensen, longtime owner and publisher of the Livestock Plus (LPI) magazine of Greenfield, which also reached far and wide in the livestock industry, calls Nichols “a wealth of knowledge, a master genetics, and a true friend to my whole family.”

Sorensen wrote about the friend Nichols became to many in helping them improve their cow herd through his genetic advice.

“It was truly an honor and pleasure for Dixie and I to be invited to celebrate Dave being inducted into the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait gallery in Louisville, Kentucky (in 2018), one of the most elite halls of fame in the livestock industry,” Sorensen exclaimed. Among all the honors Nichols received, this was widely regarded to be the highest.

Denny Davis of Greenfield graduated with Dave’s younger brother Lee, so from a young age, he knew the Nichols family and their heavy involvement in the cattle business.

Their friendship over the years included hunting and fishing trips to Alaska or Canada.

On the way to or from these locations, Nichols would want to stop at ranches he had done business with.

At one in Oregon, where a man connected with NASA when the United States put the man on the moon lived, a ranch foreman showed Nichols the heifers he had sold them and Nichols asked where her calf was. The foreman showed him, Nichols knew by looking at the calf that it wasn’t correct. Davis remembers Nichols could tell that wasn’t her calf by just looking at it.

Davis started doing business with Nichols by selling him some equipment at the Case IH dealership in Greenfield that has been known as Titan Machinery since 2008. Later, when he needed a bull, Davis went to Nichols Farms.

“I was impressed by the records he kept on each individual animal and the guarantees he made on all of his bulls,” Davis said. “We bought our first bull from Dave and have ever since. The calves they sired have always been terrific.”

Davis noted Nichols later had an idea of holding a sale where only Nichols sired calves could be sold. Nichols was always trying something new and different. A good example of this was a state-of-the-art feeding system Nichols Farms installed a few years ago that closely monitors how much feed and water each animal was consuming.

Ross Havens, one of many longtime Nichols Farms employees, said Nichols was a mentor to him throughout their professional relationship. He said Nichols was always eager to share advice and cattle industry knowledge with him.

Havens said Nichols has always been in the “front line” discussions of how to improve the genetic potential for his passion in life — genetically improved beef cattle.

“Dave’s one of a kind character, humor, creative ability to communicate, vision, breadth of wisdom and consensus building skills have uniquely and dramatically advanced the beef industry, domestic and global,” Havens said.

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson has served as News Editor of the Adair County Free Press and Fontanelle Observer since Oct. 2017. He and his wife Kilee live in Greenfield. In Greenfield and the greater Adair County area, he values the opportunity to tell peoples' stories, enjoys playing guitar, following all levels of sports, and being a part of his local church.