January 30, 2022 at 5:49 p.m.

A setup of his own

Brunken purchases farm, renovates barn for herd
Benjamin Brunken stands by his dry cows Jan. 10 on his 55-cow dairy near Reedsburg, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER
Benjamin Brunken stands by his dry cows Jan. 10 on his 55-cow dairy near Reedsburg, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER

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

REEDSBURG, Wis. – Benjamin Brunken is closing in on his first year of farm ownership. After renting for more than six years, Brunken now milks 55 Holsteins in a renovated tiestall barn near Reedsburg. 
“The transition to ownership has come with a few learning curves,” said Brunken, who purchased the farm, including 36 tillable acres, in July 2020. “There’s always been setbacks, but there are good things happening too.” 
Brunken started renovating right away, hiring people to update the barn while he and his girlfriend, Amberly, continued to milk in the rented parlor facility near Wisconsin Dells.
The updates began with new stalls, a barn cleaner, lights, fans, mattresses and gutter grates. 
The original tie stalls did not have mattresses, and Brunken was looking to improve cow comfort. He first tried a deep-bedding approach by attaching a 3-inch PVC pipe to the back of the stalls to hold in bedding, but with the center walk about 6 inches lower than the stalls, maneuvering the cows was difficult.
“The stalls were always a mess,” Brunken said. “Plus, with that extra 3-inch step up to the stalls, there was always a problem getting the cows in.” 
After that failed approach, Brunken opted for stall mats with a light layer of sawdust bedding on top. 
Fans were replaced and now operate in a tunnel-ventilation fashion.
Brunken also rerouted plumbing after discovering that one of the heifer sheds was plumbed through the neck rail in the dairy barn. 
“The neck rail was wrapped in heat tape the whole length of the barn so the water to the heifer barn wouldn’t freeze,” Brunken said. “We had that plumbed underground before winter.”
Brunken thought that would be the end of his plumbing woes, but he was wrong. He discovered that the well was too close to the gutter to pass Grade A inspection, a situation that had always been grandfathered in for the previous owner.
“It was too close by only 8 or 9 feet,” Brunken said. “The farm has two wells so we ran a line from the milkhouse to the well by the house for the wash cycle.” 
The existing milkhouse also failed inspection, with a 6-foot ceiling and walls that were buckled with age. Brunken considered a few changes before deciding to have a new milkhouse built.
“Once they jackhammered the old floor out, they found that the floor had been re-poured twice over the original one,” Brunken said. “It wasn’t even legal for me to have the bulk tank in there like that anymore. It had been grandfathered in before.”
The new milkhouse boasts a high ceiling and a big utility room, and an overall better design for equipment to fit in the room.
“The milkhouse got built big enough so that we could add a bigger tank if we ever wanted to,” Brunken said.
Once all the renovations were complete, Brunken was able to move cows in February 2021 and trained his parlor cows to stand in the tie stalls. This came with its own set of challenges.
When the cows were first tied, they would pull back on the neck chains. Brunken realized the chains were too long when the cows were standing almost completely in the center walk behind them.
“I was terrified of having the collar too tight on a cow but eventually we had to tighten them up and wrap the chains around the neck rail to prevent all that happening,” Brunken said. 
The cows were also novice to trainers.
“I would go through and get all the trainers set, and they would stand there and hit them until they knocked them down,” Brunken said. 
Outside of the dairy barn, the farm has heifer housing and a gravel feed pad that Brunken revamped with gravel before putting up feed. He has also built a new calf barn for calves on milk.
“I already had a bunch of the pens so we put the calf barn up,” Brunken said. “Hutches are nice in the spring and fall, but it seems like they’re cold in the winter and hard to keep clean in the summer.”
With a place to call his own, Brunken plans to continue to grow the herd internally. 
“I don’t have a set number that I want to be milking,” Brunken said. “With limited land, if I milk more cows, I’ll have to buy more feed. I’ll have to keep a happy medium and still have a place to daily haul manure.”


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