A group of five cows finishes milking after groups on either side have exited the parlor. 
A group of five cows finishes milking after groups on either side have exited the parlor. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

COTTAGE GROVE, Wis. – When a group of five cows is done milking at R-Acres, they do not have to wait for their herdmates to finish in order to be released from the parlor. These cows can exit and a new group of five can enter and begin milking. As a result, no time is lost.
“If there’s a slower milker in the group, the whole side doesn’t have to be held up waiting for her to finish,” said Carlie Rademacher. “Letting out five cows at a time versus twenty also prevents traffic jams.”

The Rademacher family replaced their double-11 herringbone parlor with a double-20 DeLaval P500 parallel parlor in May 2019. The Rademachers increased cow capacity within the same footprint and still have room to grow.
“(The new parlor) is a great fit for us,” Rademacher said. “Our old parlor was running 23 hours a day. We’re saving a quarter of that time now and not every group is full to capacity.”
Rademacher’s grandparents, Keith and Joan, started the farm in 1982 with 50 cows. Today, the Rademacher family, with help from eight full-time employees, milks 1,000 cows twice a day and farms 2,600 acres near Cottage Grove.
Running the operation with Rademacher is her brother, Adam, her parents, Brian and Nikki, and her grandparents. Rademacher’s younger sister, Rachel – a senior in high school – also works on the farm.  
Rademacher and Adam are third-generation farmers who returned to farm with their family full time at the end of 2020. The siblings own a small percentage of the farm, and each has a piece of land in their name.
“To support my brother and I coming on as owners, we increased to 1,000 cows and would like to keep growing,” Rademacher said. “But it all depends on the milk price.”
The ability to stagger the entry and exit of cows is one of the family’s favorite features of their new flexible milking parlor. Each side contains four gangs of five cows. When a gang is done milking, they can be let out rather than waiting for all 20 cows to finish. Groups can overlap to make efficient use of parlor time and maximize throughput.
“If we don’t have 20 cows to fill a line, the design of the parlor is such that no one backs out and nobody has to try to keep a cow in,” she said. “There are little paddles that keep cows in place. The paddle can also be used to push out a stubborn cow, so no one has to do that either.”
A bigger parlor was necessary at R-Acres as getting the herd through before the next milking started was becoming increasingly difficult, and backups were causing a delay in the milking schedule.
“We were running out of time and not getting cows in,” Rademacher said. “We want cows milked at the same time every day and that wasn’t happening in our old parlor. Cows were leaking a lot of milk in the pen and not getting in here on time. We didn’t have room to expand the parlor, so (this one) was our best option for a retrofit. Now, cows let down milk at the proper time and spend less time in the parlor.”
The transition in parlors has brought about successes in cow comfort and longevity, milk production, and employee safety. Since switching to the new parlor, the Rademachers have gained two to three pounds per cow in daily milk production.
“Cows are more comfortable and relaxed,” Rademacher said. “More of them are chewing their cud. We added mats in the parlor too, along with more fans, which are both better for cow comfort.”
The Rademachers are also finding that cows are lasting another lactation, which they attribute not only to the new parlor but also to other improvements on the farm such as feeding high-quality forages.   
At the time of the retrofit, the Rademachers were milking about 850 cows. The P500 parlor design allows for more cows within the same dimensions due to the way their bodies are aligned. Positioning cows front to back instead of on an angle increases capacity on each side of the parlor.
“Cows had to be trained to turn a different way,” Rademacher said. “It was a learning curve for everyone, but within three days, we were good to go. In this parlor, cows can’t spring their leg back at you, which has increased the safety of our employees and family.”
More cows are now milked in less time, giving the parlor adequate rest between shifts.
“Machines need a break just like humans do, and now the parlor has time to rest,” Rademacher said. “It helps us keep up with maintenance. During this downtime, we can change inflations, fix pulsators, and work on other things without spooking the cows or being in the way.”
On the day of the retrofit, milking started at midnight, and at 6 a.m., the milking equipment company took out one side of the parlor and installed the new parlor in its place. Within 8-12 hours, the Rademachers could milk on that side.
“It went really fast,” Rademacher said. “We couldn’t get all the cows through in a single-11 so we needed that side up and running as quickly as possible.”
Within 36 hours, the retrofit was complete.
“The new setup required a little patience, and everyone worked as a team to train the cows,” Rademacher said. “It all turned out perfect.”
The new parlor is slightly wider, therefore the alley is a little narrower, but otherwise the physical footprint remains the same. The Rademachers also added a pulley brush system for prepping cows which Rademacher said helps keep cows consistently clean and stimulated. A few weeks ago, they also installed under udder lighting.
“Now, we can see the complete udder and any blemishes,” Rademacher said. “It’s great.”
The Rademachers’ goal is to get to 1,300 cows in the next 1.5 to 2 years – an expansion their parlor can accommodate.  
“We already have plans drawn up for a new freestall barn,” Rademacher said. “Our dream some day is to have a carrousel parlor, and (this parlor) is our baby step to get to that carrousel.”