September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Getting more time out of a day

New parlor, freestall barn eases workload for Rakotz
Rakotz built a 112-stall freestall barn in May 2013. At the same time, the existing loafing barn was modified into a 40-stall freestall barn.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY ANDREA BORGERDING
Rakotz built a 112-stall freestall barn in May 2013. At the same time, the existing loafing barn was modified into a 40-stall freestall barn.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY ANDREA BORGERDING

By By Andrea Borgerding- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

ALBANY, Minn. - These days, Gary Rakotz enjoys having a lot more time on his hands. He still milks cows, but with updates to his facilities, he is spending a lot less time milking and more time managing other aspects of his 170-cow dairy in Stearns County near Albany, Minn.
"It seems like we went from one extreme to another," Rakotz said. "This is so much more simplified and more user-friendly."
Ten years ago, Rakotz returned to his family's farm to begin working into the operation. At the time, they were milking 65 cows in a 42-cow tiestall barn. To accommodate more cows, the Rakotzes turned a lean-to on the barn into another 42-cow tiestall barn.
"At the time I thought having a full barn of cows would be enough, but as time progressed, it seemed like trends changed," Rakotz said. "It wasn't enough."
Six years ago, Rakotz bought a herd of 50 cows to take the herd to 110 cows. That is when things got interesting for the Rakotz family.
They fixed up a loafing shed for a group of 25 cows and began switching cows for milking. Their herd numbers continued to grow from within - soon they were milking 170 cows.
"We had the cows in five groups," Rakotz said. "There wasn't one group that was tied up all the time."
Rakotz's milking routine involved four people - three people milking with eight units and one person chasing cows. One milking took three hours.
"It was getting tiresome," Rakotz said. "It was a lot more work than it was worth."
Rakotz had some decisions to make - invest in a new facility or quit milking cows. He began weighing the benefits of building a new parlor and freestall.
"I really struggled with spending that amount of money," Rakotz said. "But once I ran the numbers with the right people, it all made more sense."
In September 2012, Rakotz began discussing ideas for a new facility with his family. A robotic milker was out of the question for Rakotz. The thought of being on call 24/7 and not being able to leave on trips was not appealing. Instead, he visited farms with parlors to get ideas.
In May 2013, construction began on a 112-stall freestall barn. The existing loafing shed was also modified into a 40-stall freestall barn. In July, new construction began on the building housing the parlor, office and utility room. Rakotz decided on a double-8 parallel parlor with rapid exit. The holding area is a carryover from the previous set up.
Rakotz and his brother, Dennis, helped move construction along by installing all the equipment and helped with pouring cement.
On Aug. 26, the facility was ready for cows. He said the initial milking included a lot of pushing and pulling cows, and a lot of cows that didn't want to let their milk down.
"That first milking was horrible. It took about six hours," Rakotz said.
From there, the next milking took about four hours and gradually became less in the following milkings. Today, two people can milk the cows in three hours.
Rakotz said he is now able to alternate milkings with his brother. Their mother, Helen, helps milk once a day, feeds calves and does bookwork for the dairy.
After all those years of milking cows morning and evening in the tiestall barn, Rakotz said his mother was very excited to start milking in a parlor.
"It was a good thing we could see the end," Rakotz said of his final days of switching cows. "We couldn't work that way for much longer. We were after some more free time."
The change in feeding method alone has cut two hours from the Rakotzes' day. In the tiestall barns, they fed twice a day with a feed cart. They now feed once a day with drive-by feeding and push up feed several times a day.
As for the old tiestall facilities, Rakotz plans to make one barn a bedding pack for close up cows along with calf housing and one side an area with freestalls for dairy cows.
Rakotz still worries about the financial investment he has made, but so far the progress the cows have made is promising. Milk production is back to where it was before making the switch to a parlor. The somatic cell count, something the herd has struggled with for years, has come way down. And with the improvement in cow comfort, Rakotz plans to be milking up to 190 cows by Jan. 1.
The Rakotzes also run 550 acres, including rented land, where they raise corn and alfalfa.
"This was such a huge upgrade from where we were that if something wasn't right - it wouldn't bother me," Rakotz said.
With new facilities and more time in a day, the Rakotz family is enjoying the little free time any dairy farmer can get.
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