Fred and Mike Broker’s heifers and dry cows are housed in recently renovated facility. The Brokers built a freestall pen as an addition onto an existing heifer barn.
Fred and Mike Broker’s heifers and dry cows are housed in recently renovated facility. The Brokers built a freestall pen as an addition onto an existing heifer barn. PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE
    RICE LAKE, Wis. – Broker Dairy is essentially a two-man operation, with Fred Broker and his son, Mike, managing the 140-cow dairy. So, when the dairy was faced with the need for changes, the Brokers found their solution in efficiency.
    “We’ve always made animal care a priority, but are mindful of costs. We were at a point where we needed to find a better way of doing things with what we have rather than hiring someone else,” said Mike, who is the second generation of Brokers to be a part of the family’s dairy in Barron County near Rice Lake, Wis.
    Last November, the Brokers began using a swing-12 parlor in place of their double-6 parlor. Two months later, they built on to an open-front heifer shed to create a transition barn for their bred heifers and dry cows.  
     The father-son duo also added three pens to the freestall barn to serve as maternity and hospital areas, as well as housing for fresh and special needs animals, adding an additional 48 feet to the 93- by 144-foot barn.
    “Big decisions, like this, kind of fall into place,” Mike said. “We knew we needed to do this.”
    Fred agreed.
    “Adding cows didn’t make sense, unless we were going to take a large step,” he said. “With the barn and parlor, we’re maxed and most efficient with what we have here, both for facilities and people.”
    The Brokers tackle chores and milking together and have one full-time equivalent between a handful of high school students and a Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College intern throughout the year.
    In January 2017, the Brokers began planning the construction of their heifer and dry cow housing facility. By April 2017, construction began.
    The open-front heifer barn was transformed into a naturally-ventilated barn containing four pens of heifers and a three-row, 64-stall freestall pen for dry cows and bred heifers.
    With the addition of the freestall pen, the barn now includes drive-by feeding.
    “It was taking us about an hour to feed those animals,” Fred said. “Now, it’s less than 25 minutes.”
    A custom grower raises calves until 5 months of age when they return to the dairy. Then, heifers move through the heifer pens until confirmed pregnant. Once the heifers are settled, they are transferred to the freestall pen until three weeks prior to freshening.
    Transition animals are relocated to the freestall barn with the remainder of the milking herd.
    “The way the cows move through the barns and how milking is done is pretty close to the same way it was,” Fred said. “Now, it’s just easier to get done.”
    The Brokers started using the housing facility Jan. 29.
    “By September, we’ll have cows entering the parlor that have lived their whole life in the new barn,” Mike said. “The animals should be better because they’re in better stalls and we reduced overcrowding. We’re excited to see what those improvements will actually be.”
    While the housing facility was a new project for the Brokers, building the parlor was a task the family was familiar with.
    “This was my third time building a parlor, so I knew what I wanted to do,” Fred said.
    When Fred purchased the dairy in 1974, he milked in a double-4 parlor. In 2002, when Mike returned to the farm following college, the Brokers expanded to a double-6.
    “With a double-4, we were always waiting, and the [double-6] was tight and hot,” Fred said. “The cows didn’t want to come in. I was hesitant at first with the swing, because it had to be big enough to milk cows without much standing around.”
    The Brokers visited dairy farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin, searching for design ideas that could be tailored to their operation.
    With only two people in the pit of the Dairymaster system, the Brokers are able to milk nearly 70 cows an hour – making each milking shift only two hours.
    “In the other parlor, we could only get through 45 cows an hour and it took us three hours,” Mike said.
    Fred agreed.
    “We save two hours every day, probably 25 to 30 man hours each week, milking the same number of cows,” he said. “It’s quite the difference.”
    The Brokers chose the barn and parlor designs because of the cost-saving measures.
    “When swing parlors first came out, I thought they were a crazy idea,” Fred said. “But, with 12 units and takeoffs, it’s half the startup cost.”
    Fred and Mike worked closely with the building contractors, and Mike welded all of the gates. They also repurposed the old parlor’s floor mats in the new milking facility.
    The Brokers also replaced lights in the freestall barn with LED bulbs and are pulling fans out of the old milking barn for use in the freestall barn.
    “We spent a tremendous amount of time on these projects and doing things ourselves,” Mike said. “… We watch all we do and make sure things are paying for themselves.”
    While the Brokers are adjusting to their improvements and tying up loose ends, they are more than satisfied with the changes made to the farm.
    “So far, this has exceeded my expectations,” Mike said. “It turned out how we envisioned it and there have been no big surprises.”
    Fred agreed.
    “Sometimes I sit and wonder how we ended up with a system that works so easy for us as this does,” he said.