Cows are being milked on the new rotary parlor at Clinton Farms near Bear Creek, Wisconsin.
Cows are being milked on the new rotary parlor at Clinton Farms near Bear Creek, Wisconsin. PHOTO SUBMITTED

    BEAR CREEK, Wis. – Building with the future in mind is how Clinton Farms approached its most recent expansion project. Currently milking 560 cows three times per day, the Clintons’ new rotary milking parlor has capacity to milk 2,000 cows three times a day. By putting up a Waikato 50-stall Centrus Composite rotary parlor – the first of its kind in Wisconsin – the Clintons shaved off 3.5 hours per milking, reducing each shift from six hours down to 2.5.
    The milking parlor was the focus of the Clintons’ state-of-the-art facility, which also includes a 6-row tunnel-ventilated freestall barn, holding area, offices, conference center, breezeway to older barns and 10-million-gallon manure pit.

    Clinton Farms, in Bear Creek, is owned and operated by Jim and Sue Clinton and their children, Brad Clinton and Carrie Griepentrog. Carrie’s son, Payton, who will be a senior in high school, also works on the farm. In addition, the farm has one full-time and 12 part-time employees. July 9, 2019, marked the first day of milking in the new facility.
    “That first milking took over 10 hours,” Brad said. “We had to push every single cow onto the carrousel. The next milking got a little better lasting about 8-9 hours. We milked around the clock the first couple days, stopping only to clean.”
    Now the parlor only runs 7.5 hours per day. Cows are milked at 5:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 9 p.m. at a rate of 270 cows per hour.
    “We could milk even faster, but we don’t want to push,” Brad said.
    The composite deck is what attracted the Clintons to this particular parlor, which also features stainless stalls, milk meters, a sorting gate and overall cow performance monitoring system.
    “Most parlor floors are made out of concrete,” Jim said.
    The family  liked that their composite flooring is lighter, stronger, and will last longer. “Composite decks … should last forever,” Jim said.
    Jim moved from Berlin to the farm in Bear Creek in 1966 with his parents, Joe and Dorothy Clinton. The Clintons farmed 400 acres and milked 100 cows in a stanchion barn that was later converted to tie stalls. In 1992, Jim and Sue went into partnership with Joe and Dorothy. The new parlor is a significant upgrade from the double-6 flatbarn the Clintons had been milking in since 1998 when they built their first freestall barn and grew to 175 cows.
    In 2000, Jim and Sue took over the farm from Jim’s parents. The year 2010 saw an expansion to 350 cows along with an addition to the freestall barn. Five years later, the Clintons built another freestall barn for dry cows and heifers, and grew the herd to 450 cows. Between 2017 and 2018, the Clintons began thinking big – this time considering not only expansion but also the building of a new parlor.
    “We were milking 500 cows three times a day and each shift took six hours,” Jim said. “It was time for a new parlor.”
    One rotation on the carrousel takes about 10 minutes, and pivoting wheels ensure a smooth ride.
    Pre-spray and post-spray are done automatically, and each stall has its own sprayer. Two people milk – one wipes off teats while the other attaches the claw.  
    “The claw is really light, so units don’t squeak or fall off,” Brad said.
    No fore stripping is done as the milking system features technology that stimulates the cow by milking each quarter for several seconds while testing conductivity. The system will flag problem cows and send alerts if conductivity is high. It can also be programmed to send vocal warnings over a loudspeaker.
    “New heifers adapt quick – they just walk right on,” Brad said. “We’ve really seen a difference in the last two months now that everyone has been through a lactation in the new parlor. The process is much more seamless. Older cows used to stand and watch, but we no longer need to push anyone on.”
    The Clintons made their parlor area bigger than most. Measuring 80 feet from end to end, walls are 12 feet from the edge of the parlor. Deep walls provide more space and keeps things cleaner, the Clintons said. Tanker, storage and equipment rooms are located towards the back of the facility rather than up front for a cleaner look. Break rooms, changing rooms, a laundry room and employee bathrooms are located next to the milking area for convenience purposes. Overhead doors in the parlor open on both sides of the building, producing optimum airflow and a bright facility.
    “The new parlor has greatly increased efficiency and also created a better work environment,” Brad said. “We wanted to make employees comfortable.”
    Featuring a climate-controlled system, the new 215-stall barn measuring 133 feet by 220 feet includes curtains and  30 variable-speed fans on the end and 12 belt driven fans over the stalls – all of which are computer-controlled by temperature.  The barn’s unique layout positions feed alleys on the outside rather than in the middle.
    “This enables us to have one big group for the parlor instead of two smaller groups for added efficiency,” Brad said.
    Trading pasture mats for shallow sand bedding, the new barn is resulting in cleaner cows with fewer hock lesions. The barn also features two automatic cow brushes for extra cleanliness.  
    “We built half of this barn last year and will build the other half in a couple years to house 500 cows total,” Jim said. “We grow from within and raise all of our heifers and steers on-site.”
    In-floor heating was installed in the breezeway, holding area and milking parlor. In warm weather, sprinklers and computerized fans in the holding area keep cows cool and comfortable.
    A heated vet room with a cattle chute makes it easy to work on animals. Cows requiring shots and health checks are sorted as they exit the parlor via a three-way sort gate. Automated footbaths are another convenience feature of the expansion. The unit is self-cleaning and self-filling, eliminating human error in mixing and the need to handle chemicals.
    The Clintons farm 2,300 acres of corn, soybean and alfalfa. Chopping and manure hauling/hosing is hired out. A 12-inch underground pipe allows the Clintons access to more land across the highway for manure application.
    Clinton Farms hosted Wisconsin Farm Progress/Farm Technology Days on two occasions – in 1978 and in 2003 – and also welcomed people for an open house last summer to view their facility. The upgrade has proved highly efficient and opened the door for future growth opportunities.
    “I knew we were only going to do this once, so I wanted to build it right,” Jim said.