September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
That's just under 7-yards on a football field and it's all the distance between the past and the future on Nienaber dairy north of Freeport.
Charles and Sheri Nienaber, along with their children, Cassidy and Joe, recently switched from milking in a near 100-year old tiestall barn to doing chores in a brand new 80-stall freestall barn with a swing-12 parabone parlor which runs parallel to their old facility.
"When I went to tech school in 1993, I toured farms and the parlors were just starting to pop in southeast, Minn. I realized then I wanted to milk in a parlor someday. I really liked the ease, simplicity and safety of milking," Charles said. "By the time my dad was 60, his knees were shot from milking 30 cows and I knew that I would have to milk more than that."
Charles and Sheri bought the cows from his parents, Richard and Mildred, in 1996 and bought the farm in 2000, but knew they had to wait before going after their dream of a new facility.
"You have to have a lot of patience. There's a lot of money involved and it takes time to get there," Charles said. "You have to get your debt load down."
So the Nienabers were patient and started to save. They continued to milk in the tiestall barn that Charles said was already in tough shape when his grandpa bought the farm in 1964. They put some freestalls in a nearby pole shed in 1998 to increase the herd to 65 and then 70 cows. They switched cows every year, but in 2012 the glimmer of a new barn was starting to get brighter.
They started running the numbers and toured more farms to finish formalizing the barn and parlor in their mind before construction began in 2013.
On Oct. 24, 2013 the Nienabers walked their cows to their new digs: a two-row freestall barn with curtains, stalls bedded with six inches of straw, driveby feeding on the south side, and a holding area and milk house to the north.
"Milking is just enjoyable now. I don't have to fight the cows compared to the old barn. Everything is much nicer," Charles said.
Sheri has always worked full-time, side-by-side with Charles on the farm, feeding calves, switching cows and cleaning the barn but couldn't milk because of back problems. But that has changed.
"I can milk in this barn. It's quicker and it's easier to deal with the cows. I enjoy it," Sheri said. "My big concern was always if something happened to him, how would we get the cows milked. Now, I know we can get the cows milked and fed."
She added, the other thing that is really nice is the cows don't have to go outside to be switched.
"Now I just walk to the freestall barn and bring the cows to the parlor," Sheri said.
The Nienabers chose the swing-12 parabone parlor for a variety of reasons, including speed and money.
"With the cost of milking units, we thought it was the cheapest way to put in a parlor and milk a lot of cows fast," Charles said. "The other really nice thing is I don't have to be here if there is fieldwork. Sheri and the kids can milk."
Depending on the amount of people, they can now milk in two hours.
Sheri said, "We can get done with chores earlier and get in the field quicker. It's cut at least an hour off (milking time)."
Charles said the cows' health has improved quite a bit in the nine months since they switched to the new freestall barn.
"I don't have the leg problems I used to have. I used to see a lot of swollen hocks and heel wart issues," Charles said. "I don't have issues with the deep bedded stalls."
He considered several different options for bedding, but chose stalls bedded with straw for simplicity and comfort.
"I didn't want to deal with sand. You have the same kind of comfort with these and you don't have to worry about plugging up your pits or recycling," Charles said.
When his cows are out on pasture during the summer, Nienaber grinds up a round bale a week with his tub grinder for a bed 6 to 8 inches deep. In the winter Nienaber goes through two bales a week.
"I figure this barn is relatively cheap on bedding, about 20 cents per stall," Charles said.
Another benefit of the new facility is feeding time. Instead of mixing the feed in the TMR and running it into a feed cart, Charles just mixes and unloads along the headlocks, shaving another 30 to 45 minutes off the chores.
The Nienabers' children concur that the new barn is great.
"I like milking in the parlor. It's easier and I don't have to bend over," Cassidy said.
Joe smiles in approval.
"I like to use the fire hose to wash the parlor," Joe said.
They, like their parents, enjoy the walk to the new barn and the future it brings.
"It feels good to say we did that," Sheri said.[[In-content Ad]]
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