Ushering in efficiency
New parlor keeps Woodards dairying
Jimmy and Michelle Woodard stand outside their new double-8 parallel pit parlor Feb. 17 on their farm near Winona, Minnesota. The Woodards transitioned out of a double-8 step-up parlor. PHOTO BY GRACE JEURISSEN
WINONA, Minn. – Jimmy and Michelle Woodard are working to ensure their future.
The Woodards built a milkhouse and parlor and milked their herd in the new setup Jan. 25. The Woodards milk around 100 cows and own two farms for a combined 435 acres near Winona.
The new parlor is important to continuing the Woodards’ farm. Jimmy said without the parlor, they likely would not have been dairying for much longer.
The Woodards installed a double-8 parallel pit parlor with a BouMatic Xpressway indexing system. The Woodards bought the milking equipment from Lester and Donna Banse who were retiring. They transitioned out of a 21-inch, double-8 step-up parlor.
Michelle said increased efficiency and consistency is one of the most important advantages of the parlor, leading to high milk production. The faster milking setup allows their cows more opportunities to rest and eat and less time spent in the holding pen. The Woodards’ old milking system had begun to take up to four to five hours per milking by the time they transitioned out of it. In their new parlor, milking and clean up takes around 2.5 hours.
The goal of the parlor was that one person could easily take care of milking.
“Ideally, we were looking for it to be a one-person operation,” Michelle said. “To position ourselves that if something happened to me, or something happened to him, one of us could easily fill in that void.”
The Woodards also hope that less time spent in the parlor will allow Jimmy to get into the field more.
“Last year, … I didn’t plant any corn,” Jimmy said. “I baled maybe 100 bales of hay. I didn’t have time to get out there. We were grateful to have other family members to assist with our crops.”
Jimmy said the additional time should yield better crops.
“Maybe we get a little better quality or the crop in on time to get better yield,” Jimmy said.
The updated parlor has been in the process of fruition of a long time.
The Woodards bought the first of their two farms in 1998. They built their 87-stall, sand-bedded freestall barn in 2003. Their old step-up parlor was installed in 2005. Originally, the plan was to remain in that setup for five years. However, the dairy economy of 2009, a stroke Jimmy suffered in 2012 and the building of a 30-stall dry cow freestall barn in 2014 pushed the parlor transition back.
Jimmy said the cows seemed to adjust to the parlor for the first milking.
“Nobody missed a beat; they all milked out the first time,” Jimmy said.
The Woodards had six people to help with the first milking, and the whole process took them two hours. Michelle said the hardest part of that first milking was getting the cows to be used to the windows in the parlor. The Woodards were milking by themselves after only six milkings.
Michelle said they were concerned their somatic cell count might increase because of the unit switch, but their SCC did not go up when they transitioned into the parlor. The Woodards, who ship their milk to Associated Milk Producers Inc., have an SCC around 150,000.
The Woodards hope to increase their herd and milk 150 cows by this fall. They have been building their heifer inventory so they can transition heifers directly into the parlor. Currently, they have around 60 heifers, half of which are bred to calve in. They also plan to buy around 20 cows in the meantime.
The parlor addition features high ceilings which were built to accommodate their future dream of putting in a vertical indexing system. The parlor has wide, gradual, cement steps going down into one side of the pit and metal steps on the other side. Jimmy wanted the cement steps because he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis four years ago. In the front of the parlor, there are several large windows that add natural light.
Comfort wise, the parlor is heated with a radiant heater. Eventually, the in-floor heat will also be ready. The deck and the pit have rubber floor mats.
The Woodards used many contractors for building and installation. Lang’s Dairy Equipment, of Decorah, Iowa, installed the milking system. Jimmy said the last four days before the transition, the dairy equipment installation team was there from 8 a.m. until 11:30 p.m., often with four or five men working during that time to make sure they would hit the Jan. 25 deadline. During the project, they also remodeled their heifer shed by putting in electricity, water fountains and concrete mangers.
With multiple contractors working on different areas, there were days when the Woodards’ yard was full.
“I’ve got video – seven trucks in the yard and 12 different workers here for two or three days,” Jimmy said.
The Woodards said others looking to undertake a similar project should set clear expectations and dates in place when working with contractors.
Michelle said she is happy with the work the contractors did.
“All of our contractors are just amazing,” she said. “They all did a really great job.”
Because they had multiple contractors, Jimmy said he wanted to foster collaboration.
“We had a meeting prior to start,” he said. “I just asked them to please respect each other’s time because you all have other work to be doing and other jobs. If you work together, it’ll flow better.”
With every building and renovation project, the Woodards said they try to envision how the current project could tie into a future project.
“So, when we built the other barns, we always left rebar and water lines stubbed out so we could tie in and do the next step,” Jimmy said.
In the future, the Woodards are considering converting the old barn they milked in into housing for dry cows.