September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
A fire last Sept. 15 claimed the Lafayette County operation's 60-year-old barn and the swing-12 parlor that had been retrofitted inside it eight years ago. As a result, the farm's 174 milking cows ended up scattered at three other farms as distant as 50 miles.
"We had to get the cows home. It was time," said Tim McComish in early February.
The new milking parlor was operational by Jan. 29. That's when a test batch of 16 Holsteins was hauled back to see how the new double-10 low-line parlor functioned.
"Everything worked well and the cows went through just fine," Tim said.
The day after the test milking, the McComish family and helpful neighbors used 11 trucks and trailers to bring 100 more cows home from their temporary quarters at a farm near Fennimore, Wis. Fifty cows closer to the McComish farm were fetched next, then a final batch of eight.
Milking became simpler, since a McComish Farms' employee no longer at the farm of Lonnie Holthaus, Fennimore, where most of the cows went after the fire, returned to the farm. And, feeding became much easier, too.
Tim and his son, Joe, along with Joe's wife, Amber, and an employee, had been trucking semi loads of a total mixed ration every other day. It was a round trip of 100 miles that added four hours of work. The task was made all the worse due to one of the coldest winters in nearly 30 years.
As might be expected after being away from home for one-third of a year, the cows' milk production has suffered. Before the fire, the Holsteins were carrying a rolling average of approximately 26,900 pounds. Now they're at about 24,000 pounds on three-time-a-day milking.
Tim said he expects production to rise as the cows settle in. He said the fresh group was chugging along at about 160 pounds per day, or a bit more than 50 pounds per milking.
The hired milkers were also adapting to the new parlor, getting used to the automatic takeoffs, vacuum-operated gates and computerized milk meters.
One milking in the new parlor takes about two hours, compared to half an hour longer in the old parlor. Tim said he expected two people to be able to knock another half hour off the time.
At 68- by 116-feet, the new building is twice the size of the previous one. Besides the milking parlor and holding area, it has six rooms - three on each side.
On the right are Tim's office, a bathroom with a shower, and a lounge that doubles as a kitchen and a place for employees to stay overnight during bad weather. On the left are the utility room, milkhouse, and a narrow room with the electrical panel in it. Tim calls it "an office that can get dirty."
The new building has several features Tim said he especially likes. Chief among them is the spacious, high-ceilinged milkhouse. The old milkhouse was added onto three times in attempts to accommodate all the equipment a dairy farm with a growing herd needs.
"It's my pride and joy," Tim said about the milkhouse.
Another thing Tim pointed out was the banks of light emitting diodes, or LED lights. There are two sets of the lights in the holding area, and three on the ceiling of the milking parlor.
LEDs cost more to purchase, but they use less electricity than fluorescent lights, so in the long run, they're less expensive, Tim said.
"They put one row up and I couldn't believe it. They put another row up and I almost had to wear sunglasses," Tim said about the LEDs in the parlor.
He's also pleased with the pulsators. The air that's piped into them is filtered, making for a longer useful life since dust is eliminated.
The McComishes were able to buy the 20 automatic takeoffs at a discount. Costing $2,500 apiece new, Tim said these were purchased used for $800 each from a dairy in California. The $34,000 that was saved will help pay for the new milking center.
At the near edge of each cow platform, the McComish family opted to build in a stainless steel gutter covered by a fiberglass grate. The gutter and grate are positioned so manure drops right in. Each gutter is sloped, so manure gravity flows to one end and travels to a 300-gallon sump, and then to the manure pit.
Having the gutters means less water is needed to hose down the cow platforms. Tim said the platforms stay cleaner, and since the grates are not metal, there's no clinking and clanking when cows step on them.
The parlor also has two doors leading to and from each cow platform. Cows can walk straight ahead and then make one turn to get out, without having to back up.
In addition, the parlor has in-floor heat, using hot water. The cow return lanes on each side of the holding area are also heated, making for safer cow travel and easier manure removal.
Tim made a point of thanking the many neighbors who pitched in to get the Holsteins home.
"We've got great neighbors. Just like on the day of the fire, I didn't have to look for cattle trailers. There were more here than I had cattle to haul," he said.
As work continued inside the milking center, outside, Joe and Tim scraped the area between the holding area and freestall barns and hauled the manure away. Things were beginning to get back to normal.
Asked how it feels to finally have all his cows home where they belong, Tim said, "You have no idea. I'm very happy.[[In-content Ad]]
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