September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"We do the best we can with what we've got," Kathy Bauer said.
The Bauers recently upgraded their parlor from a swing-8 to a double-9. Kathy and Randy Bauer farm with their son, Glen, on their 90-cow dairy near Faribault, Minn. Their daughter, Melisa, also helps on the farm when not working her full-time job as a milk inspector.
In July 2011, the Bauers added units to both sides of their retrofitted parabone parlor.
"I was sick of hauling milkers back and forth from the parlor to the milk house," Kathy said.
Before the upgrade, the Bauers kept the milking units in the milkhouse and brought them out to the parlor for each milking.
"It was a lot of extra time and it was hard on the knees. Carrying the milkers up and down the stairs in and out of the parlor (pit) was not fun," Kathy said. "It's a lot easier now."
The addition of indexing capabilities has also helped make milking easier for the Bauers, especially with their mixed herd of Holsteins and Jerseys.
"Indexing is really nice for the Jerseys or when we have heifers because it will move them back," Kathy said.
The upgrade also included air-operated crowd gate and end gates.
"The cows hear the air sound in the back and they push ahead to go into the parlor. They used to push back when they saw someone coming to get them," Kathy said.
She also said the new gates save time because one person in the parlor does not have to bring in the cows. Milking now takes about two hours compared to the three hours it took before the upgrade.
Added mats where the cows stand to be milked have helped prevent the cows from slipping.
"It's been really nice," Kathy said about the recent upgrade.
The Bauers are used to upgrading facilities over time rather than all at once. When Randy and Kathy were married in 1982 and started farming together, the barn had 16 tiestalls and 18 stanchions. Over the years, the Bauers converted their barn to all tiestalls.
"We wanted to make the stalls bigger to make it more comfortable for the cows," Kathy said.
Section by section, the Bauers took out the stanchions.
"We did a lot of the work ourselves because we didn't want to gut the whole barn at the same time," Kathy said.
As their herd grew, the Bauers made accommodations for their cows, turning a steer shed into a makeshift freestall barn with 14 stalls.
"It wasn't ideal, but it helped increase our numbers," Randy said. "The freestalls were good for the larger Holstein cows. Even though the tiestalls were pretty big, they weren't big enough for the Holsteins. They would eliminate themselves by getting hurt."
At that time, the Bauers were milking their cows in three shifts. That's when they knew another change needed to be made. In the fall of 2005, they broke ground for their new freestall barn and brought in cows for the first time in February 2006.
After building the barn, they started retrofitting the parlor, which they finished by May. They used the milking units they already owned and made the parlor very simple to cut down on costs.
"It allowed us to not have a huge debt. There were some really hard times financially where it would have been hard to be paying for all the bells and whistles of a new parlor," Kathy said.
Although the Bauers are now happy with their parlor upgrade, before making the changes they were concerned if the new system would have any effect on their somatic cell count.
"We're glad we've been able to maintain our (somatic) cell count," Kathy said.
On two-time-a-day milking, the Bauers had an average SCC of 39,904 for 2011. They have also won the national dairy quality award from the National Mastitis Council for the past two years.
They attribute their low SCC to putting milkers on clean cows, really focusing on making sure each teat end is clean. They also feel using microfiber towels for milking, using a CMT test for fresh cows and their freestall barn bedded with washed lime has contributed to a low SCC.
"And you can't do things right here and there, and expect it to work. You need a consistent routine," Kathy said.
Now with the upgraded parlor, the Bauers will continue to follow their farming philosophy and keep progressing step by step.
"We'll continue to improve where we can," Kathy said about the future. "We have no plans for expansion, but we'll continue trying to do a good job at what we're doing right now."