March 26, 2022 at 8:33 p.m.

Patterns of progress

Rolling S Farms updates parlor, evolves with the times
Jennifer Toberman stands in one of the freestall barns March 8 at her farm near Bagley, Wisconsin. Toberman is a partner at Rolling S Dairy where they milk 780 cows in a newly updated double-14 parlor. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER
Jennifer Toberman stands in one of the freestall barns March 8 at her farm near Bagley, Wisconsin. Toberman is a partner at Rolling S Dairy where they milk 780 cows in a newly updated double-14 parlor. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER

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

PATCH GROVE, Wis. – The updated parlor at Rolling S Farms is part of an effort to keep abreast of the ever-changing dairy industry.
“Dairy is always changing,” Jennifer Toberman said. “If you don’t update, everything is going to fall down right around you. We are always maintaining and updating.”
Toberman is a partner at Rolling S Farms in Patch Grove.
The 780-cow herd is milked three times a day in a double-14 parlor that was installed in fall 2020 when the previous parlor was worn beyond repair.
“Our old parlor was pushing the 20-year mark,” Toberman said. “We have always kept it well maintained, but after a hydraulic motor failed to raise one of the exit boards up, we started running into major repairs from that point on.”
The cows had pushed on the exit board, causing extreme resistance. The hydraulic motors started blowing capacitators which made it clear an update was needed.
The new parlor is similar to the farm’s previous setup.
“The main difference is it runs on air pressure instead of running on hydraulics,” Toberman said.
Installing the parlor took two days and proved to be a challenge.
“The cows didn’t want to come in while they were welding, cutting and torching,” Toberman said. “We had to milk on one side at a time. We did milk nonstop, but there was still one day that the cows only got milked twice.”
The updated parlor had the option of adding an activity monitoring system, something Toberman declined due to the cost.
“At some point, I think we’re going to need to do that when I’m too old to keep up,” Toberman said. “Right now, we’ve got a really great A.I. company who provides heat detection. I’ve worked alongside our vet getting a better handle on sick cow detection, so I just couldn’t justify dropping that kind of money on something we are very good at doing ourselves.”
Rolling S Farms was established in 1972 when Toberman’s father, Jim Steiger, ended a partnership with his two brothers and started dairying on his own with his family of six. The first parlor was built in 1994 followed by a freestall barn in 1995. In 1999, Toberman’s father formed a limited liability company with two of his sons and lifelong employee Bob Bloom.
With an addition to the freestall barn in 2003, the farm expanded the herd from 250 to 500 cows. Toberman took over the role of owner from her father in 2005 and now runs the dairy with Bloom and their team of employees. Her dad and older family members are retired.     
Another freestall barn was added in 2015 and another addition was put on the first large freestall barn shortly after. Stalls were updated in 2019.
The Rolling S team has also found ways to be innovative without updating facilities. Toberman said statistics were emerging that stalls needed to be bigger, and lunge space should be added for cow comfort. They brought in experts to determine the best way to accommodate the cows in the outdated barn from 1995.
“We had people come in from (the University of Wisconsin)-Madison,” Toberman said. “They had a lot of big ideas, but it was not the most cost-effective solutions, so we figured why not buy a smaller cow that would fit perfect in the outdated free stalls. And, they have worked great ever since.”
The Jerseys are housed in the freestall barn with the smaller stalls separate from the Holsteins.
Toberman is in charge of most of the herd health along with an assistant, Tony Hernandez, who has been a longtime employee of 20 years.
The calves are custom raised until they are 6 months old. Then, Toberman’s husband, Larry, takes over managing the calves. He also manages a beef herd of 270 cow-calf pairs, which Toberman helps with as well.
“We are definitely a team,” Toberman said. “He is involved in a lot of the decision making, and in the afternoons, I help him at the beef farm. This leaves very little downtime, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Toberman plans to keep moving forward with updates at the dairy as needed. An additional 40 cows were added in December 2021 after Toberman moved her post-fresh pen to a smaller area to create more room for the rest of the herd. This was also an effort to keep pace with the dairy industry.
Toberman said the goal was to fill a tanker of milk each day.
“We’ve surpassed that, and now we’re realizing our bulk tank isn’t big enough,” Toberman said. “The next thing we’re looking into is directly shipping our milk.”
Right now, the farm’s milk is hauled by an owner-operator, who is quitting at the end of the month. To transition to direct shipments, Toberman said they will have to buy a chiller, get rid of the bulk tank, install three bays and add concrete for the tankers to park. While she faces most updates with optimism, the costs are something Toberman is not looking forward to.
“It’s a big investment,” Toberman said. “It would be cheaper for us to own a truck and trailer and hire a driver, but it’s impossible to find a driver right now.”
Toberman said one of her favorite things about the new parlor is the milk weights are recorded after each cow is milked. She also noted the benefits of the cow scrub brushes that were installed at the same time as the parlor.
“The brushes are so consistent compared to each milker doing their own techniques,” Toberman said. “No more washing and drying eight loads of towels each shift.”
Toberman has also seen cost savings with not having to maintain washers, dryers or hydraulic motors.
“As we’ve grown, we just kept changing things,” Toberman said. “You can’t stand still on a dairy farm for very long.”


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