September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"It's all basic," Dale Schumacher said.
Dale and Erin Schumacher along with their two sons, Jesse and Dillan, recently built a new milking facility for their 145-cow dairy, Schumacher Triple-Pride Dairy, near Eyota, Minn. They went from milking in a tiestall barn to a new double-10 parallel parlor along with a freestall barn for additional housing. The Schumachers don't hire any employees, but get help from Jesse's wife, Tracy, when she's not working her off-the-farm job as a nurse, along with Dillan's girlfriend, Michelle Heins.
"It's been awesome," Dillan said.
"I definitely wouldn't want to go back," he said.
On Jan. 9, the Schumachers started using their new parlor, which has automatic takeoffs, but no computer system.
"We wanted to get it built. It's something we can easily add to in the future," Jesse said.
The parlor is comfortable for the cows.
"When we were switching cows, they would fall down or fall in the gutter," Dillian said.
The Schumachers said the cows can now easily maneuver through the parlor. Cows are also milked on a more consistent time schedule without all the extra work of milking the herd in a tiestall barn.
People also benefit from the new parlor.
"There's less abuse on our body," Erin said.
Before the parlor, the Schumachers milked their cows in a 42-stall tiestall barn with eight milking units. Towards the end of the tiestall barn's use, the Schumachers were switching cows three times. I took nearly three hours to milk with two to three people milking. Now, milking can be done in about two hours.
Adding a second sand bedded freestall barn also made milking cows easier.
"The freestall barn just made so much less work for us. The cows are more comfortable (than in the tiestall barn)," Erin said.
The parlor is attached to the barn with covered walkways, unlike before when the cows had to walk down to the tiestall barn and stand outside in order to be milked.
"Now the cows don't have to go outside in the cold, snow and freezing rain," Dillan said. "We were scared to take the cows out when the weather was like that. Not anymore."
Since the upgrade, the herd's somatic cell count dropped from about 170,000 to 85,000. They attribute the drop to consistent milking and the switch from paper towels to microfiber towels.
The Schumachers have been working to increase their herd number with the goal to soon be milking 160 cows. However, the farm hasn't always had this many cows.
Dale and Erin bought the farm in 1985 when they got married. While Dale had grown up on a dairy farm, Erin grew up on a beef and hog farm.
Cow numbers started to increase when their older son, Jesse, decided to return home to farm in 2010 after graduating from the dairy program at Northeast Iowa Community College. When Dillan, who was in the dairy program at NICC at the time and would be graduating in 2013, said he also wanted to come home to farm, the Schumachers knew the herd would grow in numbers again, and they would need a better milking facility.
"We grew up with it and had a love for cows. I like to try to help them milk more and keep their somatic cell count down," Dillan said about why he and Jesse wanted to be dairy farmers.
The family looked at nearly a dozen other milking facilities in the area for ideas of what to do. Although they looked into robots, the Schumachers quickly decided against them.
"We like milking our own cows and each robot could only handle 60 cows. We liked the flexibility of a parlor. We could milk more cows if we wanted to," Dale said.
The expense of robots also made them hesitant.
Although the idea of retrofitting their tiestall barn sounded appealing, it didn't always match with the type of parlor the Schumachers wanted, especially having vertical lift rapid exits.
"We measured and remeasured (our existing tiestall barn) so many times to try to make it work for a rapid exit parlor, but it didn't work," Erin said.
Eventually, the decided against retrofitting their barn.
"At the end of the day it would still be an old barn. We wanted a new one," Dale said.
When they had narrowed it down to a new parlor, it was the newest generation who made the final decision between a herringbone or a parallel parlor. Jesse and Dillan both worked at the dairy at the NICC campus, which has a split parlor - one side herringbone and one side parallel. They both concluded they like parallel parlors better.
"The cows come in better, we don't have to worry about having a leg in a way and the cows are closer together," Dillan said. "And the building could be shorter because the parlor didn't have to be as long"
They also mentioned that they don't get as dirty in a parallel parlor and the cows seemed more comfortable in the individual stalls of a parallel parlor rather than no dividers in a herringbone parlor.
So far, the Schumachers like their new parlor and the fact that they can still do all the work themselves without having to hire employees.
"This is a family deal and we wanted to keep it that way," Dale said. "Family is important."
Upgrading their facilities, but also keeping it simple helped Dale with one of his farming goals.
"I wanted to be able to pass it on to the next generation," he said.
Partly because of a new parlor, that's what is happening.