The Rollers used a portion of an original building to design the 62-stall freestall area of their facility. They built a lean onto the side to accommodate drive-by feeding.
The Rollers used a portion of an original building to design the 62-stall freestall area of their facility. They built a lean onto the side to accommodate drive-by feeding. PHOTO BY ANDREA BORGERDING

    HEWITT, Minn. – The Roller family knew they had to make changes to the facilities on their dairy to ensure the farm’s future.
    With the goal of improving cow comfort and minimizing labor, Ryan Roller, planned every angle, dimension and feature of the family’s new 62-cow freestall, 30-cow bedded pack, tunnel ventilated facility and swing-10 milking parlor.

    “We wanted to get a barn that had more cow comfort – that was the main thing,” Gene Roller said.
    Ryan agreed.
    “I would say more efficiency too,” Ryan said. “We would spend many hours milking.”
    Prior to updating their facilities, the Rollers – Gene and wife Brenda, along with their son, Ryan, and his wife, Amy – milked a herd of 50 registered Holsteins in a tiestall barn. The barn needed repairs, and with Ryan returning to the farm full-time, the Rollers’ next step was to construct a new facility.
    What the Rollers did not plan on was the building process taking several years to complete.
    “It was a wakeup call because we thought we could build in one year, be done and milking in it,” Ryan said. “It ended up being years of building.”
    In 2014, the Rollers built a 66- by 100-foot bedded pack barn adjacent to the tiestall barn. The pack barn provides 100 square feet per cow and initially housed their high producing cows while the Rollers continued to milk in the tiestall.
    “We put our better cows in the pack barn, and we couldn’t believe the response in increased milk production,” Ryan said. “That really pushed us to get the sand-bedded free stalls done.”
    But the next stage for the Rollers was building the parlor. In 2016, the Rollers completed the swing-10 milking parlor with used automatic takeoff units and a new rapid exit parlor.
Today, one or two people can milk the herd in 1.5 to 2 hours.
    “I’m really glad we did 10 cows (per side),” Brenda said. “Having 20 cows in here at a time – it seems to go smooth.”
    Brenda said heifers easily transition into milking in the parlor.
    “The heifers are used to it in two days and are much easier to handle versus in the tiestall,” Brenda said.
    The entire herd transitioned well into the milking parlor, but at that time, cows were being housed in three different places – the pack barn, tiestall barn and pasture.
    The Rollers were eager to finish the next stage which was creating a sand-bedded, 62-stall freestall area by adding on to an existing building and connecting it to the bedded pack barn.
    Ryan had spent years researching the benefits and management of sand bedding. He found the benefits outweighed the challenges of managing sand.
    “I did a lot of research to be sure to get the stall design right,” Ryan said. “I looked at every specific design detail to be sure the cows would use them correctly.”
    Initially, the Rollers did not have money to purchase a stall groomer. Ryan manages the stalls by adding sand every 5-7 days and leveling the stalls in between.
    The barn was completed last fall, and the herd responded immediately to the new housing area.
    “It was a huge jump in milk production,” Gene said. “We are thinking because of the stalls and increased cow comfort.”
    The Rollers think more access to water was also a contributing factor to increased milk production.
    Just months into the new facility, the Rollers are relieved to have the project done. Despite it taking longer than they thought, building in stages ended up being a blessing in disguise.
    “One good thing about us taking a little more time is being able to see things that we thought would be better,” Brenda said.
    Even with all his design preparation and planning, Ryan agreed.
    “It’s frustrating because you have to be patient, but in a way it is good because at each step you have time to think about it and try to do every part right,” Ryan said.
    The Rollers also did as much construction as they could themselves to help cut costs. They poured not all but most of the cement in the buildings, purchased dairy equipment, did the plumbing and installed stalls and headlocks.
    “If you can do it yourself, you can save at least half the cost,” Gene said.
    Looking back, Ryan said he would have done a few things differently. Managing manure in the barn is something Ryan would like to change eventually.
    “I designed the barn around cow flow to the parlor,” Ryan said. “One thing I’d do differently is design the barn around manure flow.”
    Manure is scraped several times a day into a small holding pit and hauled out twice a day. Ryan would like to make an underground storage area where the holding pit is and pump it to a permanent storage. This improvement project is already in the works.
    “Eventually I would like to purchase a manure robot, but I am waiting for one that is designed to handle sand bedding,” Ryan said.
    In the 10-year plan, Ryan would like to invest in a Lely Vector feeding system. He designed the freestall facility with plans to add a feed kitchen adjacent to it.
    “I’m looking to hire labor in the future, and I think we could gain enough to make (the Vector) pay,” Ryan said. “I like the feeding consistency, not wasting feed and always have feed pushed up.”
    Adding a milking parlor system is something Gene and Ryan were always working toward.
    “I like my cows, and I like to milk them myself – it forces me to work with them every day,” Ryan said. “I like that if I wanted to get 50 more cows, I can now.”
    Gene and Brenda milk in the mornings while Ryan does feeding and scraping. Brenda and Ryan milk in the evenings. The herd is divided in two groups – a high group and a low group. The low group consists of 30 cows housed on the bedded pack. The high group of 60 cows is housed in the freestall area. Each group is brought into the holding area and milked one at a time.
    The Rollers recently made a key turning point in their expansion.
    “We are finally where we can get rid of the cows we don’t want anymore,” Ryan said. “We were always trying to save animals.”
    The Rollers breed for longevity among other features so having 10- to 11-year-old cows in their herd is not uncommon.
    Through the years of expansion – a slow and steady pace of growth – the Rollers were encouraged by the results from the changes they did for their herd. They know there will always be updates to be made to continue to allow for improvement.
    Ryan said there are many different ways to do things – there is no right or wrong way.
    “What works for one farmer may not work for the next farmer,” Ryan said. “Just about anybody can make anything work.”
    Ryan and Amy will be taking ownership of the dairy in 2022. Amy, who currently works off the farm, looks forward to helping more on the dairy in the future.