Cows stand on the rotary parlor the Zwalds installed on their 1,400-cow dairy near Hammond, Wisconsin. The Zwald family has been very happy with their transition from a double-10 parlor to the new rotary parlor. 
Cows stand on the rotary parlor the Zwalds installed on their 1,400-cow dairy near Hammond, Wisconsin. The Zwald family has been very happy with their transition from a double-10 parlor to the new rotary parlor. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN

    HAMMOND, Wis. – After several years of determined planning for the Zwald family of Bomaz Farms in Hammond, a goal became a reality when the GEA T8800 40-stall rotary parlor took a turn in May.

    Bomaz Farms Inc. is operated by Bob and Kay Zwald, along with their children and their spouses, Annette and Steve Schalla and Tom and Ashley Zwald. The farm is home to 1,360 milking cows.
    Bob serves as the farm manager and takes charge of the farm’s genetics program, while Kay serves as the calf manager. Tom heads up the farm’s crop division, handling all agronomy duties and CAFO planning, and has taken on the technical duties of managing the rotary system. Tom’s wife, Ashley, and Annette tag-team the cow and heifer management, while each has young children at home. Annette’s husband, Steve, handles the human resources duties and the farm bookkeeping.  
    “We were pretty well set to be a 650- to 700-cow herd, but as we started pushing the numbers up toward the 900-cow mark, we started to run out of room for everything,” Annette said. “We knew the expansion was happening at the dairy, and we knew we would be keeping all of our heife rcalves to increase our inventory for the expansion.”
    The Zwalds solved their question by custom heifer growers to take on any additional overflow.  
    With the rotary parlor, a challenge was training the cows into the system as they transitioned away from the double-10 parlor. As the cows learned the new routine, the challenges they faced were learning to adapt themselves to the amount of change in their farm operation and learning to manage the new technologies.
    The Zwalds felt the transition happened smoothly, and the challenges they faced have far been outweighed by the benefits.
    “It was really nice to start the rotary with about three-quarters of what the total capacity was,” Annette said. “It made the learning process for the cows easier, and it kept us from getting way behind on milking with the increased time it took for the cows to load onto the rotary and exit off. We had the ability to catch up when we got a little behind, and after the first 48 hours, everyone was going through great.”
    Annette said their milking protocol allows the cows to load onto the rotary where an automatic pre-dip dips the cows. The parlor features a stimopulse system, which eliminates the need to forestrip. The rotary moves the cows to the lead milker who wipes the cows and attaches the units. On the other side of the rotary, cows are automatically post-dipped before exiting.
    “The new set up allows us to have one person out here milking the 1,400 cows,” Annette said. “When you watch the cows on the rotary, it just seems to be the way to milk cows.”
    The monitor with the cow information is positioned where the milker works and will show alarms if something goes wrong with the milking process.
    “The screen shows an alarm, but they aren’t usually looking at the screen, so we installed a speaker system so they hear an audible alarm if there is a kick-off or a low expected milk weight,” Annette said.
    The alarm also sounds 15 minutes after a milking shift begins; reminding the milker to check that everything is working and properly connected in the milk room, heading off any potential problems early in the milking shift.
    With the new rotary parlor came the addition of two new freestall barns to accommodate the farm’s growth.  Cows were moved into the first barn in August.
    “We were all really excited to build this barn,” Annette said. “It is a hybrid, or four seasons, barn ... We are hoping this barn, with the fans and the ridge being different, that it will do a better job with regulating the temperatures and not having some of the freezing issues we’ve dealt with in the past.”
    The Zwalds place a high focus on genetics and genomically test all calves born to identify those with superior genetics. Annette handles the genetic paperwork and the genomic testing of animals. Bob Zwald works with Annette and another son, Nate Zwald who works for ABS Global, to analyze the results of the genomic testing to determine what animals rise to the top of their herd.
    “All of the information is great, but it can sometimes be a data-mining nightmare,” Annette said about the sheer volume of proof data available to breeders.
    At Bomaz, more emphasis is placed on net merit than TPI, in combination with components and health traits. The animals carrying the top numbers are brought into the farm’s extensive in vitro fertilization and conventional flushing programs to make best use of their genetic superiority. They have grown their herd with embryonic transfer technology.   
    “We really want to breed what we call the blue-collar working cow, one that is going to thrive in the commercial environment,” Annette said. “We want smaller, more efficient cows with sound feet and legs and good, workable udders.”
    Annette said she pays attention to pounds of butterfat and protein in addition to health traits when making breeding decisions.
    “We don’t want to deal with high cell counts or cows that don’t breed back,” she said. “We do everything we can to give them a good environment, but they need to be able to last in that environment.”