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Need a Great Milking Parlor? Burn Down Your Old One!

By   /  May 11, 2015  /  Comments Off on Need a Great Milking Parlor? Burn Down Your Old One!

No, we’re not serious. Do NOT burn down your barn. BUT, if you’re considering starting your own dairy, or you’re in the market for improving an old one, here are some great suggestions from someone whose barn DID burn down.

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A few weeks ago we introduced you to the Radtkes who looked at their farm and what they needed to make a living and then chose grass based, organic dairying over raising grass fed beef. With the decision to start into dairy, Rich and Carol began remodeling an old pole barn on their place to be their milking parlor. They got a USDA Beginning Farmer loan to cover the cost of some equipment and the milking herd.

And then things took an unexpected turn. Rich was just getting off the phone after talking to a farmer about some Jersey’s he wanted to purchase. Carol had gone into the kitchen to turn off the coffee pot when he heard her calling to him, “Rich! The barn is on fire!”

Photo courtesy of the Kerkhoven Banner

Photo courtesy of the Kerkhoven Banner

Though Rich was able to save the animals, there was nothing to be done for the barn and it burned to the ground. Worse, they learned shortly after that the barn did not have the insurance they thought it had. There would be no insurance money to rebuild the barn. They’d used up their savings, and they thought they were done. And that’s when their community stepped in. With the help of a local businessman and donations from friends, family and supporters everywhere, they were able to put together the funds to build a new milking barn.

Rich and Carol outside their new milking facility. Photo courtesy of the Dairy Star.

Rich and Carol outside their new milking facility. Photo courtesy of the Dairy Star.

Rich put together a video to show you what he ended up with. He did a lot of reading and research to figure out what would work best. His requirements were that it be inexpensive, easy and safe to operate for the cows and the people, expandable should they get more cows or want to sell it in the future, and be easy to keep clean. The building itself was inspired by toy model of a milking barn he saw on line, but the milking system itself is based on the work done by Dr. Larry Tranel, ISU Extension & Outreach Dairy Specialist.

The milking barn is 32′ x 48′ and was completed for less than $70,000, thanks in part to Rich’s superpower: the ability to find low- or no-cost alternatives to the standard way of doing things.  The 600 gallon milk tank only cost $600 because that size is not popular in his area. The double stainless steel wash vats were free, courtesy of an old dairy farmer Rich found on Craig’s List. A friend had an old sink he gave them that they use for hand-washing. While saving money on those things, they chose to spend it on a “clean in place” system that allows them to wash all the milking equipment without taking anything apart or hauling it to a sink.

Cows walk up a 2% grade into the barn, a slope that’s just enough to encourage them to walk slowly without pushing each other. They aren’t fed in the milking facility, but walk in out of habit. The set up is ergonomically friendly to the milkers too with a pit that’s 41″ below hoof level,

TRANS Iowa Low-cost Dairy Parlor from Rich Radtke on Vimeo.

The Radtke’s haven’t been milking long. The barn was finished on January 19th, the cows arrived on the 2oth, the inspector approved everything on the 21st, and three and a half days later their first milk truck arrived. But they love how the barn works for them and their cows. The well-lit, clean space makes the 1 minute they spend per cow a positive experience. Rich’s wife and daughter do all the milking, and Rich says, “My 16 year old likes it and it seems like she’s been milking for 20 years.”  Here’s a short video of Carol milking:

Here’s the link for our tablet readers.

The Radtke’s are enthusiastic about the progress on their farm and are happy to share their experiences with others. Rich says, “If we can help others who find themselves on a similar path as ours, we’ll do what we can. We’ll tell you what we’ve done and/or why we did it a certain way and not another. Hopefully, you can avoid some of the pitfalls or perhaps gain some confidence by talking with us personally.” Here’s his email. I just replaced the @ with an “at” to prevent him from getting spammed: rich.radtke at outlook.com.

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About the author

editor and contributor

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

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