September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"Things are going really good," Steve said. "The time savings is nothing. Just how my body feels is so much better."
Since September 2012, the Tschidas have been milking in a new double-8 parabone parlor, built completely by them. Their decision to build a parlor was not an easy one to make - but necessary to keep their family dairy going.
Steve Tschida and his wife, Kathy, have been farming together since 1983. But for the past 18 years, they have milked 60 cows in a 30-cow tiestall barn on their 160-acre farm near Grey Eagle, Minn. in Todd County. After building a 60-stall freestall barn in 1994, the Tschidas switched their herd in two groups through the tiestall barn. It would take Steve three hours to milk cows.
"I milked by myself while Kathy would do all the feeding chores," Steve said. "She would be all done feeding TMR to the cows and youngstock by the time I was done milking. I never had time to feed anything. By the time I took the last bucket off the first group and get the first bucket on the second group - it would be close to half an hour shot."
With the condition of the tiestall barn slowly deteriorating, the Tschidas knew they had to make some changes soon.
They began looking at all their options by spending several years looking at robotic barns and parlors. The couple went back and forth between plans right up until the last minute.
"We actually had plans drawn up to do a robotic barn," Kathy said. "The thing for us was that we either had to do 60 cows or 120 cows - there was no in between in order to cash flow a robotic milker. Finally, I thought maybe the parlor would be the safe bet. [With a parlor] we know we can milk the cows and we can feed the cows."
With their minds made up, the Tschidas began construction on the building for the parlor in June 2012. They looked at other low cost parlors to get ideas and take measurements. Kathy's brother, Mike Berscheit, is a welder by trade and came to the farm everyday after work to build the parlor. The Tschidas used galvanized steel to construct the parlor.
"We'd have the pieces cut and ready for Mike to weld together when he got here," Kathy said.
The Tschidas wanted to milk through the back legs of the cows but didn't want to go with a parallel parlor because of how wide the building needed to be for the rapid exit. They opted for the parabone parlor. Although it would have saved money, the Tschidas chose not to go with a swing parlor.
"I didn't want the hoses hanging down the middle of the parlor," Steve said.
One other feature they decided against were the index rails between each cow standing in the parlor.
"We had many farmers tell us that it was tough getting heifers used to them," Steve said.
"Putting heifers in here is fantastic," Kathy said. "If the cows have a little more room, we put an extra cow in to help keep them steady with the heifer."
The Tschidas began milking the cows in the parlor on Sept. 29. By the third milking, the cows were already steadily moving through the parlor.
"Getting the cows out was just as much a chore as getting them in," Steve said of the first few milkings. "The cows on one side have to walk through the other side of the parlor and back around to get back to the barn."
Tschida said he would have liked if there were some way to make a rapid exit for a parabone. Also, if he knew milking would be going this well, Steve said he would have installed a crowd gate right away.
"I would have installed a crowd gate and changed the way we did the entrance gates," Steve said. "Other than that, I'm pretty darn happy with it."
Currently, the cows are able to push through the entrance gates, so the Tschidas are looking to add a latch, where with a quick slide from Steve or Kathy, the gates will move.
Now, both Steve and Kathy can milk the cows together in one hour. One person can milk while the other one brings up another group.
"When just one of us milks, I can leave one side milking while I go get another group of eight cows," Steve said.
As for milk production, the Tschidas have seen a 10-pound increase since milking in the parlor. Steve said part of it might have been the stress level that came with milking in the rundown barn.
"It was so much work in the other barn," Steve said. "I've been better at tending to the cows and milking in the parlor is so much calmer for the cows."
Knowing they were going to have to update someday, the Tschidas began purchasing used equipment years before building the parlor. They have purchased a used plate cooler, a transfer pump for the milk from the parlor and a vacuum pump. Eight of the 16 milking units were also purchased used.
Altogether, the project cost $225,000, including the building, cement work, the parlor and equipment.
The Tschidas have enjoyed farming together for the past 30 years. But now, they have a renewed energy for their dairy.
"If I had this when I was 30 years old, I could definitely see myself pushing 100 cows," Steve said. "Milking is so much better and faster but the way everything is set up is so much better too. I am very happy."
"I really enjoy the freedom Steve has now," Kathy said. "He was always so tied down. Even now, he can keep working in the field and I can milk myself."
The Tschidas also have a son interested in coming back to the farm someday. Ryan (29), currently works as an engineer, but has shown genuine interest in the family farm.
"We want to give him an opportunity but there's always the chance he may not like it," Steve said. "He can always get another job, but I don't want to expand anymore in case he changes his mind."
As pleased as the Tschidas are with their parlor, they know that what they have done might not be the right fit for everyone.
"Am I happy with our decision? Yes," Steve said. "But I'm not saying that everyone should go with a parlor."
The Tschidas farm on Steve's family farm where they raise corn, alfalfa and soybeans. They have three sons, Ryan, Craig (28), and Jason (26).
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