Cows at Nellie Holsteins are milked in a double-8 parallel parlor that has in-floor heat. 
Cows at Nellie Holsteins are milked in a double-8 parallel parlor that has in-floor heat. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
    EAU CLAIRE, Wis. – When the Nelsons decided to build a new facility for their dairy, they wanted to make sure they could run it themselves.
    “The purpose of us building this and putting the extra stuff in was because it’s just us,” Doug Nelson said. “We don’t plan on hiring additional help.”
    Since February, Doug along with his son and daughter-in-law, Derrick and Miranda, having been milking their 185-cow herd in a new parlor and freestall barn they built on their dairy, Nellie Holsteins, near Eau Claire, Wis.
    “It’s gone a lot better than we expected,” Derrick said. “It’s been working great so far.”
    The new set up is built one-fourth of a mile down the road from their original farmsite, where they used to milk in a 56-stall tiestall barn.
    “It was nothing special,” Doug said about their previous milking facility.
    A four-row freestall barn features sand bedding with drive through feeding, alley scrapers, a robotic feeder pusher and tunnel ventilation.
    At first, the Nelsons planned to have side curtains for natural ventilation without fans.
    “I bought this land because it’s on a knob and it always has a breeze,” Doug said. “The builders came and said you would have a lot more cost building a higher roof [for the side-curtain barn]. We can do a lower roof and put the fans in for just $8,000 more. It was kind of a no brainer … to have the extra ventilation.”
    One end of the barn features six 6-foot fans and two 4.5-foot fans. The sides are clear panels to allow light in. The Nelsons said this ventilation will help keep the barn warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
    Alley scrapers and a robotic feed pusher take two jobs off the Nelsons’ plate.
    “The idea is that one less person would have to be around,” Doug said.
    They also prefer their four-row barn compared to other six-row barns they have seen.
    “It’s easier for moving cattle and during vet checks,” Derrick said. “You can just lock them up [in headlocks] and not worry about the cows moving into stalls.”
    Plus, the Nelsons like the additional bunk space for the animals.
    A flume manure system moves the waste to a pit large enough to store 30 days worth of manure.
    “It uses water to flush out the whole system,” Doug said. “There’s no mechanical things to work with once manure drops in.”
    The drive-by feeding has also been a nice change for the Nelsons, who had not ever fed a total mixed ration prior to the new barn.
    “It wasn’t physically possible [to feed TMR] in the old barn,” Derrick said.
    Doug agreed.
    “It’s nicer feeding than doing everything by hand,” he said. “We had a feed cart, but we were going around the barn three times a day with the feed cart [for silage] and grain. Now we feed once a day and then the feed pusher keeps it up.”
    Sand bedding has been a good change for the cows, but not for the people.
    “It’s kind of a pain,” Doug said. “… But, we really haven’t had any problems with hock swelling since we’ve been in here.”
    The double-8 parallel parlor has also been an upgrade.
    “I like not bending over so much,” Doug said.
    Miranda likes the atmosphere.
    “Our parlor is really open and really bright so it’s easier for the cows to come in,” said Miranda, who also works off the farm in Eau Claire County as a 4-H program coordinator through the University of Wisconsin-Extension.
    Plus, it is more comfortable for cows and people. In the winter there is in-floor heat. For the summer heat, positive pressure fans with variable speed in the parlor and holding area keep the area cooler.
    “When it’s 80 degrees in the holding area, those fans go on full blast,” Doug said. “And no matter where you are in the parlor, you’re getting a breeze on you. It’s really nice.”
    The twice a day milking schedule also does not last as long as it used to.
    “We could milk four times as many cows in the new barn for the amount of time it took us to milk our herd in the old one,” Miranda said.
    They also wanted their facility to take a green approach.
    “We’re one of the closest farms to Eau Claire, and we’re going to have tours,” Doug said. “We want to be energy efficient and point all that out. We wanted to make it a green barn.”
    They spent extra money to put in three-phase power, variable speed motors and pumps wherever they could, and used LED lighting. They have on-demand water heaters and use the water from the plate coolers in the water tanks in the freestall barn.
    “The cows get tepid water all the time,” Doug said. “They drink more if it’s not ice cold.”
    The idea of a new facility has been in the works since before 2011, when Derrick returned home after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course program.  
    At first, they were looking at robots.
    “It just wasn’t penciling out to do that,” Doug said.
    So they directed their efforts towards building a parlor.
    “We looked at a lot of farms and had an idea of what we wanted and what we didn’t want,” Derrick said. “We didn’t have any preset notions when we started looking. We just pieced everything together.”
    The Nelsons encountered a few setbacks. Their first lender, a large international bank, did not want to take on the project; however, their small local bank took it on without a problem. They also had to wait for their county permit to be approved, a process that took four drafts by their engineer.
    They also had higher instances of displaced abomasum this spring after buying a large group of just-fresh heifers. Their original 55-cow herd adjusted well. And, the first few milkings went better than expected.
    “There were lots of people here to milk the first milking, and we got 55 cows through in less than an hour,” Miranda said.
    After a few days, it was back to the three of them taking care of the herd – just how they had planned it.
    “We really focused on building it so the three us of us could handle it,” Doug said. “So far, we’ve been able to do that.”