August 29, 2022 at 3:39 p.m.

Parlor gives Pattersons their lives back

Milking time cut in half, production on the rise for Dodge County dairy
Steve Patterson (left) and his son, Justin, stand in their double-8 Euro 500 milking parlor which they started milking in last September. The Pattersons milk between 140 and 150 cows and farm 350 acres near Neosho, Wisconsin.  PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
Steve Patterson (left) and his son, Justin, stand in their double-8 Euro 500 milking parlor which they started milking in last September. The Pattersons milk between 140 and 150 cows and farm 350 acres near Neosho, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

By Stacey [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

NEOSHO, Wis. – The Pattersons used to milk 150 cows twice a day, spending more than a third of their day in a 48-stall barn. Long hours created a stressful environment and family members felt like they were always staring at an udder.

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Realizing their milking setup needed to change, the family broke ground on a parlor and holding area the day after Memorial Day last year.
“We had no family life or social life before,” Steve Patterson said. “But with the parlor, that’s improved immensely. We have a life again. The parlor is easier for the cows and a lot easier for us.”
Sept. 10, 2021, was the Pattersons’ first day milking in their double-8 Euro 500 parlor, which is equipped with Allflex automatic takeoffs and milk weight readers as well as in-floor heating.
The stall partitions and other hardware were purchased used from a neighbor. The parlor is a slant style, which Patterson said is a cross between a parallel and herringbone. Cows stand at a slight angle, and the units are put on between the back legs.
“Cows are creatures of habit, but they adjusted to the parlor pretty fast,” Patterson said.
Patterson and his wife, Sharon, farm with their son, Justin, and his wife, Anna, near Neosho. The Pattersons milk between 140 and 150 cows and farm 350 acres. The family provides all of the labor on their farm except for a hired hand who mixes feed. Sharon works off the farm at the local school distric, and Anna, a registered nurse, works three 12-hour shifts each week off the farm.
After building a freestall barn in 2012, the Pattersons continued to milk their herd in the farm’s tiestall barn which required switching cows four times. They milked with six units because it was all the 2-inch pipeline could handle.
“It was a drag,” Patterson said. “We were milking 9 to 9.5 hours every day. We would start at 5 a.m. and milk until who knows when, and in the evening, we’d start at 5 p.m. and be out here until 10 at night sometimes. It wasn’t much of a life. Who wants to be out in the barn that late? There’s more to life than milking cows.”
The parlor slashed milking time in half, and now, the Pattersons spend 4.5 to 5 hours milking each day.
“With milking 16 cows at a time, they move through pretty quick,” Patterson said. “Even if we get a late start, we’re done by a reasonable hour.”
Justin milks the first group while Patterson scrapes the barn. Patterson then helps Justin milk the second group.
With the parlor came freedom to devote more time to other chores on the farm and the ability to enjoy life a little more.
“We had to do it,” Patterson said. “The barn was shot.”
The turn-of-the-century building was rusting out, the air circulation was poor, and the pulsation was on its last leg.
“We like our cows to be comfortable, and the old barn was not doing much for cow comfort,” Patterson said. “The barn was so worn out, and I didn’t want to spend money on outdated facilities. You either have to get up with the times or get out.”
Patterson plans to convert the barn to calf housing and do away with outdoor hutches.
The Pattersons have also seen an increase in milk production over the last year. Cows are currently averaging 81 pounds per day – about a 10-pound jump from their prior milking facilities. Patterson said they have more room to go up and anticipates cows will be milking 85 to 90 pounds each by Thanksgiving.
“Cows had to go through one lactation in the parlor before they started milking more,” he said. “Now, even through the heat, we’ve seen consistency in production. Milk held steady even in big downturns. I know we’re going to achieve a much better herd average with the parlor, and I haven’t even started feeding this year’s feed yet.”  
  The Pattersons purchased a 3,000-gallon bulk tank and are now on every-other-day milk pickup.
“We were on every-day pickup before, which was more expensive,” Patterson said. “The parlor was a big lifestyle change, and we’re all easier to live with because of it. It’s better for the cows too. They’re not standing around waiting in groups. It’s a shorter trip to the parlor and a lot less stress overall.”  
Patterson said one negative is that the holding area, which holds about 50 cows, is not big enough.
“We’re too landlocked here though to have built it any bigger,” he said.
Patterson appreciates the additional time he and his family now have which he said allows for better management practices. From timely fieldwork to focused cow care, the Pattersons are able to complete quality work throughout the farm.  
“Instead of making haylage in the middle of June, we had it off at the end of May,” Patterson said. “Better cropping schedules have led to better feed quality. We’re also able to spend more time with the cows doing health checks, giving pills, etc. We don’t feel rushed trying to get things done. We’re keeping cows healthier and taking the right steps to prevent them from getting sick.”   
The Pattersons are loving life in their new parlor, which has resulted in a more efficient and productive farm not to mention a better lifestyle. A win all around, the family is excited to see how much their cows can accomplish in their new milking facility and have plans to get up to milking 170 cows.
“I’m just so happy we pulled the trigger on this parlor,” Patterson said. “When I look back, I wonder how we ever got by. It’s a night and day difference.”


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