Jim Harter detaches milkers after the morning cleaning. The new goat parlor was placed in the former double-four cow milking parlor. (photo by Kelli Boylen)
The rotary parlor Harter designed holds 24 goats at a time, and can handle 150 to 200 goats per hour. (photo by Kelli Boylen)
Kelli Boylen Staff Writer
Petersburg, Iowa - It could be said that Jim Harter likes to dive right into things. The fact is, he has the skills to do exactly that.
During the first week of August last year Harter and his wife Bonnie were still milking cows on the farm he grew up on and still lives on with his family. By the second week of August he was milking goats - and he wasn't just milking them in a purchased parlor, he was milking them on a rotary parlor he designed and built in two and a half weeks time.
Over the last few years Harter was having troubles getting his cows pregnant. He didn't want to give up dairying, so he started investigating goats.
"So far it's been a lot less headaches," he said.
He went to look at some goats for sale at Jason Zalaznik's farm near Holy Cross in the spring of last year, and the two became friends.
Zalaznik was a calf raiser and custom grinder when he decided to start dairy goat farming about three years ago. He started out with 200, last year was up to 300 and this year hopes to have more than 400 milking.
Harter found a herd of 200 goats to buy and the farmer agreed to milk them for about two weeks while Harter prepared for them. He also purchased 200 yearlings which will start to freshen later this spring. It is said 10 goats equal one cow, so Harter will end up with a little more than the equivalent of the 35 cows he had.
Harter and Zalaznik took a trip to Fennimore, Wis. to see a rotary goat parlor that had been ordered from Europe. Jim immediately saw ways to improve the system. During the hour and a half drive home he turned things over in his mind and had his design worked out. After their other chores, Harter and Zalaznik took to the shop.
When Harter was young his dad taught him how to weld and he learned a lot by watching and doing. He also took welding in high school. "It just doesn't take me long to work stuff like this out," he said. He said he makes just about everything he needs, about 15 years ago he even made his own silage bagger.
Harter, with Zalaznik's assistance, started cutting and welding iron when the duo wasn't doing their regular farm work. "We started with the center pivot and worked out from there," said Harter.
After returning home from Fennimore, Harter went out to his driveway with a nail and a piece of string. He started drawing circles, a 10-footer, a 12-footer and a 14-footer. He worked it out on paper how many goats each circle could hold and he worked out that a 12-foot diameter circle was best and could hold 24 goats. So that is what they started building.
Harter's design works off the center post; there are no wheels or other mechanisms to hold it. His philosophy in building the rotary parlor was simple. If it looked right, he kept it; if it didn't look right he took it apart and did it a different way.
Sitting on 5-gallon buckets looking at their creation, they would problem solve when needed, including figuring out how to have the headlocks open and close when needed.
Eighteen days after he started, he milked for the first time on his creation. The night before his first milking, Harter and Zalaznik stayed up all night finishing it as the goats waited. But, they got it done.
For the first few days Harter milked on the rotary parlor he had assistance from friends and family to help the goats get to and from where they needed to be. Now, they are eager to step onto the platform.
"Goats are fast learners," he remarked.
The entire rotary parlor comes apart in five pieces. The main platform was brought into the barn in two pieces, each only six feet high. They easily brought everything into the milking area though a 36 by 82 inch door.
The new goat parlor was placed in the former double-4 cow parlor. Harter, working with Zalaznik and a few other friends and family, did the majority of installation. New Vienna Metal works helped with rounding out the pipe that runs around the circumference of the platform, and United Suckow Dairy helped with the milking equipment.
Harter was able to use some of his old dairy equipment in the new parlor, such as the vacuum pump.
The rotary platform is connected to a variable speed motor, so the rotation time can be adjusted for goats that milk out at a faster or slower rate. Typically, it takes five to five and a half minutes to complete a rotation, which is fast enough to keep two people busy while milking, but both Harter and Zalaznik say it is easy work.
The only modification Harter made since installing the parlor last August is to shorten the height of the headlocks by about nine inches because the goats didn't like them so tall.
Working at a good pace, the new rotary parlor can handle 150 to 200 goats per hour.
Zalaznik was milking his goat herd in a single 16 parlor, at a rate of about 80 goats an hour. He says it was 20 feet long, which resulted in a lot of footwork. It was also taking him up to four and a half hours per milking for his 350 goats. It would have cost him about the same amount money to put in another 16 (making his single 16 parlor into a double 16 setup) then to have a rotary parlor, and doubling his current parlor would result in the loss of his holding area.
He milked in Harter's rotary parlor, and liked it. So, the two returned to the shop again and built another rotary parlor for Zalaznik's farm.
The rotary parlor was put into Zalaznik's barn in the end of January. When asked if he likes the new set up, he said, "I would never go back."
He added, "You don't have to hustle so much. You aren't tired when milking is done."
Between the first and second rotary parlors they created, they made a couple of very minor design changes.
Harter isn't exactly sure of the total cost of the project, partially because he worked off the pile of scrap iron in his shop. He estimates the actual cost for materials was about $6,500. The gearbox was about $1,000, and the variable speed motor was about $550. With milkers, pulsators, pipeline and other costs, he estimates the grand total was less than $13,000.
Would they build another? "If someone calls we might, we have the pattern set now. But there will be the matter of finding time to do it," Harter said.
Zalaznik milks his goats seasonally, but Harter is working on breeding his herd so that he will milk year-round. The base price for goat milk is $32 per hundredweight in the winter and $29 in the summer, not including premiums. Both of them sell their milk to Montchevre in Belmont, Wis. for cheese production. Although they both like goat milk fine, because of it's high value, they sell all their goats produce and buy cows' milk at the store.
Goats produce naturally homogenized milk, usually in the six to eight pounds per day range, although individual goats can range from three pounds to 17 per day. They have one to three kids per year, typically having twins.
Harter will continue to grow his own feed as he did with his dairy herd and Zalaznik buys his.
The biggest challenge they have had is that there are not veterinarians in their area who specialize in goats and a sick goat needs to be tended to quickly. It is often said a sick goat is a dead goat. They both believe a vet specializing in goats could do well in Northeast Iowa.
They have also been working on a good ration for their goats. Often a cow's ration is simply reduced to the amount goats need to eat, rather than having a formulation designed for them.
Posted: Saturday, April 25, 2015
Article comment by:
I am impressed with your parlor. I would love to have a copy or your plans no matter how crude they may be. thank you
Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2015
Article comment by:
This is so cool.
Switching to goat business from cattle also.
Trying to find out how it would be possible to build this kind of parlour, sadly there is little information available and going to see one is out of option (not any around here in Finland).
I`m interested if it`s possible to buy some kind of blueprints?
Thank you for your time.
Posted: Sunday, August 3, 2014
Article comment by:
I am a DIY er myself and have not been able to figure out how to make a air and milk lines both to pivot in the center at the same time so I was wondering if i could buy a copy of you parlor blueprints please let me know!!
Posted: Saturday, May 3, 2014
Article comment by:
Hi, love the story. My wife and I are looking into starting a goat dairy facility in ontario Canada. Very interested in your parlour. Are you building them now for sale or are your plans available? Thank you so much for your time Mike and Shannon G.
Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Article comment by:
Would like to talk to you about building a parlor?? Just wondering how to get in touch with you? Thanks