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

Moving forward in their career

Rowekamps upgrade facilities with new double-12 parlor, new ID system
A new double-12 parallel parlor is now used to milk cows at the Rowekamps’ dairy. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
A new double-12 parallel parlor is now used to milk cows at the Rowekamps’ dairy. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA

By By Krista Kuzma- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

LEWISTON, Minn. - With an old parlor that needed repairs, the Rowekamps had to make a decision about their dairying future - upgrade their milking facility or call it quits.
"We were at a crossroads ... but getting out of the dairy industry was not an option for us," Bill Rowekamp said because of his love for the cows.
Rowekamp and his wife, Jean, decided to build a new double-12 parallel parlor with rapid exits on their 345-cow dairy in Winona County near Lewiston, Minn. With the new facility, they also started using a new identification program, which measures cow activity and milk production. The Rowekamps have been using their parlor since it was finished the fall of 2012.
"We really like the parlor," Rowekamp said.
The new facility replaced a 40-year-old double-6 parlor. Since last fall, the Rowekamps have seen that the new parlor makes milking more efficient, has more benefits for the cows and gives them more information to better manage the herd.
"This parlor is more bright, airy and comfortable for the cows," Rowekamp said. "Cows are reluctant to leave because it's so nice in there with the fans and air movement."
The 12 employees at the dairy also like the parlor.
"It's better for employee comfort and attitude," Rowekamp said.
One of the benefits they have seen since using the new parlor has been an increase in milk production with as much as five pounds per cow per day. Their rolling herd average is currently at 31,700 pounds on three-times-a-day milking
Another advantage to the new parlor has been increased downtime for the cows.
"I think that's what helped with the herd average and increased milk production," Rowekamp said.
Before the new facility, the Rowekamps were still on a three-times-a-day schedule. However, with the size of the parlor, the only time the parlor wasn't used was when it was being cleaned in between milkings.
"It ran all the time," Rowekamp said.
With the new larger parlor, cows are milked faster and therefore are not standing in the holding area as long. There is also more time for them to rest. About 70 cows are milked in the parlor each hour with one person milking. The milking shift begins at 6 a.m., 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.
The parlor gates also includes a sorting system, which the Rowekamps have been using for about six weeks.
"The cows are getting more used to it," herdsman Ian Thomas said about the sort system.
When a sick cow or a cow in heat is identified in the parlor, that cow is diverted from the return lane to a different pen where she can be checked.
"It has saved a huge amount of management time," Thomas said. "We used to go out with a clipboard to find the cows, but now the computer knows ..."
"And we're not messing with the cows as much," Rowekamp said.
With the new identification system, each cow wears a transponder on her front leg. That transponder identifies the cow and also gathers information such as milk production per milking, milk flow rate during milking time and activity in the barn.
"It helps with prep procedures. We want to get optimum milk flow," said Thomas.
Within the first two minutes of milking, Thomas expects cows to have milked 14 pounds.
"[Using this information] not only enhances udder health, but maintains cow through put," he said. "We want the milkers to do a good job with the best benefit for the cows' udder,"
The system has helped find negative deviations in milk production, which could indicate sick cows. Watching activity of the cows has also been helpful. Low activity can be a sign of a cow that is ill. High activity cows are cows in heat.
However, the Rowekamps are not relying as much on the activity system to catch heats. About 13 percent of cows are bred from the activity monitoring system. The rest are bred using ovsynch or when they see a standing heat. The pregnancy rate for the herd stands at about 25 percent.
"We have some room for improvement," Thomas said.
The housing for the cows did not change - three freestall barns bedded with sand.
"Sand is a huge part of our success," Rowekamp said.
Along with sand, the Rowekamps also have fans and sprinklers to keep the cows comfortable. At 65 degrees, the fans turn on in the barns and the sprinklers start running at about 80 degrees.
The Rowekamps have been happy with their parlor since they installed it last year. Although being a dairy farmer presents struggles, the Rowekamps said they could never give it up.
"I love the dairy business - the people involved, the lifestyle and the challenges," Rowekamp said. "I didn't want to be done yet."
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