John Nickel grew up on a small, mixed family farm near Miami, Manitoba. As a young man he became familiar with many aspects of production agriculture as well as with logging. After serving a 16-year employment in the purebred cattle industry in Manitoba, he moved with his wife, Raylene Frankhauser Nickel, to North Dakota in 1990. After taking over the Frankhauser family farm near Kief, he began implementing management practices that would rejuvenate soil and develop livestock genetically adapted to thriving on forage-only diets. His long-held vision for using draft horses to accomplish the labor of feeding hay to cattle in winter came to fruition.
John was a man of thought and when presented with questions, he had ready answers. A young friend once asked him, "What has God entrusted to you, and what is it that gives meaning to your life?"
John's reply: "We have been entrusted with a responsibility to each other. We have also been entrusted with our relationship to God and what He teaches us as people to live in a humble spirit and to simply live with what we have. Jesus' existence was humble; he consorted with [those others found socially unacceptable].
"Meaning comes from our relationship to God and not our position in society.
"The partnership with the animals, preserving their place in what we do and preserving it with an order of dignity is also what creates meaning in my life.
"Our relationship to place will be a part of a legacy we leave for future small farmers. When we have relationship to place, [it holds] our identity, meaning this is where we are, this is what we do, and this is where we release our creativity. Leaving this idea for future farmers to adopt is what gives my life meaning."