Friday, July 12, 2024
HomeLivestockDairy CattleNeed a Great Milking Parlor? Burn Down Your Old One!

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

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

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.

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