A swing-15 parlor is attached to the south end of Darren Keranen’s 120-stall freestall barn at the dairy farm near Osage, Minn. Keranen constructed most of the parlor himself with the help of family and friends.
A swing-15 parlor is attached to the south end of Darren Keranen’s 120-stall freestall barn at the dairy farm near Osage, Minn. Keranen constructed most of the parlor himself with the help of family and friends. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
    OSAGE, Minn. – When Darren Keranen fired back up his family’s farm site six years ago, he set goals that would push the dairy in a direction of longevity.
    To reach that status in the industry, Keranen made several improvements to the farm site, including a 120-stall freestall barn and swing-15 parlor.
    “This project fell into place with my goals; maybe even helping me reach them a year early,” Keranen said. “To me, dairy farming is something I take pride in, and even with the milk prices, I feel my future is here.”
    Keranen began using the new facilities last winter on his 120-cow dairy farm in Becker County near Osage, Minn.
    The farmer works alongside his wife, Sonya, and three children – Matix, 5, Charity, 3, and Arber, 1 – as well as his father, Arnold. Keranen also works alongside his brother, Andrew, where they do fieldwork together and share equipment.
    Over the last year, the new facilities have proven to be a good investment for Keranen. Not only has the freestall barn provided more comfort and cleanliness for the animals, but the parlor also maximizes the farm crew’s time.
    Every day, Keranen is in the barn feeding the cows their ration. At the same time, a full-time employee, Chance Jokela, milks the herd.
    The cows are milked twice a day, with each milking taking about 90 minutes.
    “Cow comfort and quick flow have been the biggest things we’ve noticed about this new setup,” Keranen said. “And, the cows didn’t skip a beat.”
    The tunnel-ventilated hoop barn has center lane feed bunks and sawdust-bedded stalls located along the outer walls. On the south end of the barn, before the parlor entrance, a maternity and hospital pen is equipped with a side lane and headlock for breeding and health checks. Next to the maternity and hospital pen is the holding pen leading into the swing parlor.
    Once in the parlor, as one side of cows are being milked, the other side is released and a new group enters.
    Previously, the cows were housed in a 60-cow pack barn and would travel a short distance into the farm’s original tiestall barn where it was retrofitted to a 12-stall flat parlor.
    “Now, we’re not dealing with frozen pipes and water lines, no frozen teat ends,” Keranen said. “With everything essentially in the same building, the cows are ridiculously clean, and it’s way more efficient to be able to walk them in to the parlor and milk and put them back in the barn.”
    When Keranen began dairy farming at his family’s farm site, he put up the pack barn as a temporary housing solution.
    Within the first six months of milking on this site, Keranen replaced the flat parlor with a swing-10 parlor.
    “The flat parlor was inefficient, and I knew all of that wasn’t our final building,” Keranen said. “In my mind, I wanted a new barn and parlor eventually.”
    As the herd grew and Keranen envisioned his goals for the farm, he knew putting up larger facilities were necessary. The milking herd was housed in two groups – a high group in the pack barn and a low group out on pasture.
    “The economy made me question if building new facilities was the right decision, and I constantly wondered about that,” Keranen said. “It came down to the fact that I had to do it or get out. There was no future in what I had. I first built [the pack barn and swing-10 parlor] as temporary facilities and that’s all they were.”
    The farm site includes 160 acres – half of which Keranen purchased six years ago from his father. Last summer, he purchased the remaining 80 acres and made plans to update his facilities.
    “When I bought the rest of the land, I could refinance the farm and that allowed me to afford the freestall barn and parlor I am using now,” Keranen said.
     But refinancing the dairy did not give way to ignoring a budget and putting up the buildings in the most cost-effective way possible.
    “The cost of everything made it a no-brainer that if I wanted it, I would do it all myself,” Keranen said.
    Contractors put up the frame of the barn and parlor, but Keranen, his family and friends did all the plumbing, concrete and steel work. They also repurposed the milking equipment from the swing-10 parlor.
    Keranen went with the hoop barn design for three main reasons: He liked the natural light and quality of air; it was a design he was familiar with; and it was the most economical choice.
    The family has dealt with a small bout of mastitis that began this past summer, but otherwise the new facilities have served them well and met all expectations.
    “Dad was really questioning my plans as I was putting it all together,” Keranen said. “We’re not unhappy with it. We really like the setup and Dad thinks it turned out awesome.”
    The old facilities are still in use. The pack barn now houses close up dry cows, which has only improved the health of fresh cows coming into the parlor. Additionally, the original tiestall barn now houses young calves.
    In Keranen’s time dairy farming on the farm site he grew up on, he has also put up commodity and calf sheds and a feed lane.
    “If you’re never moving forward, you’re moving backwards. New facilities can make life easier, but at the end of the day the same stuff still needs to get done,” Keranen said. “I can’t wait to be at the point where I stop building stuff, and I can just dairy farm.”