By Ron Goble
HILMAR, Calif. – Dairy milk parlor construction activity is way down across the West, especially in California where some construction firms are experiencing one of their biggest lulls ever.
“We’ve had three or four dairymen who originally planned on building a new parlor from the ground up, but decided to go with extensive remodels instead, which utilized a significant portion of the existing structure,” said Kevin Clarot, partner with John Pereira in Modern Dairy Inc., Turlock, Calif. “In these tough times, resorting to a renovation allowed them to stretch their resources while realizing overall parlor efficiency upgrades that penciled out for them.”
Pereira said Modern Dairy has also felt the effects of the economic downturn. They have gone from 44 to 31 employees during the last 18 months. Most cutbacks have been on the installation side of the business. Their service side of the operation is still going strong. “This is the first time in four or five years that we haven’t had major construction projects scheduled well down the road,” Clarot said.
One of the last major renovations they completed was for Wickstrom Jersey Farms, Inc. in Hilmar, Calif. A family corporation between Duane, Mike and Scott Wickstrom, this renovation included turning a 40-year-old double-7 herringbone into a holding pen, which will funnel cows into a new 60-stall WestfaliaSurge Magnum rotary built adjacent to it.
“Mike and Scott have told us more than once that they couldn’t afford NOT to do the renovation,” Kevin said. “They needed to improve efficiency so they could be profitable again.”
“The old parlor was so inefficient and repair bills were a constant drain,” Mike said. “Not only was the parlor 40 years old, but we were spending way too much money keeping up with the repairs. We started the renovation project when milk prices were still pretty good. When the low milk prices hit bottom, we had no choice but to finish what we started.”
From generation to generation
Mike said he and Scott represent the third generation of Wickstroms dairying in the area. They’ve always had Jerseys and shipped their milk to Hilmar Cheese. Today they are also stockholders in Hilmar Cheese, which he called a good investment.
Their grandfather, Oliver Wickstrom, was the first generation to dairy in Central California. Their father, Duane and his brother Vern were partners for a time and then split their herd in 1968 to have their own operations. Duane was milking 400 cows on a leased facility when he built the current facility in 1973. It featured twin double-5 herringbones when he and wife, Pat, first started on their own. He later converted the parlor to double-7s.
Mike, Scott, Duane and Pat, incorporated in 1980 after the boys earned dairy science degrees from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Their registered Jersey herd grew to 1,500 milk cows over time and after the rotary came online, cow numbers increased to 1,800.
Besides their original dairy, they have leased a 500-cow dairy (Wickstrom Bros.) also in Hilmar, and are 50-50 partners with the Nyman family in another operation milking 4,000 cows at Redtop Jerseys near Chowchilla.
Duane, 76, is still involved in the dairies, but spends most of his time overseeing construction projects at Redtop Dairy.
Wickstrom explained their renovation process this way: “We took the roof structure off where the old holding pen and milking pits were all in a line and put a new roof over it that included cover for the expanded rotary right next to the old pits. We upgraded the electrical service to handle the new parlor, including new water lines and drainage systems. We also added two new 7,000-gallon milk tanks in a space once used for our office and electrical service room.”
Wickstroms went with a WestfaliaSurge rotary outfitted with a BECO pulsation monitoring system. Mike said their new parlor is extremely high tech and will provide data that will help them make wiser management decisions. “It is a matter of a few key strokes on the computer and you’ve fine-tuned and tweaked the parlor system where it needs it. That will benefit us and make us more efficient in the long run,” he explained.
The computerized system provides them with baseline numbers so they are able to see where they are, and determine where they need to go from there. “We’ve taken some of the problem areas out of the workers’ hands and the system dictates when certain parlor practices are done,” he said. “It allows us to keep the milking machines from being attached too early in the rotary cycle. That way the cow has adequate time to be stimulated for good milk letdown, so when the machine is put on her, she milks out quicker and better.
“We like the consistency of the cow flow with the rotary. The milkers don’t have to walk nearly as much as they did in the old herringbone parlor,” he recalled. “It also allowed us to be on 3X milking schedules.”
Wickstrom said their somatic cell count is right around 200,000, an improvement over the days milking in the old parlor. Milk production is fluctuating between 62 and 66 pounds per cow, generally up 4 pounds per cow per day since their remodel. Butterfat has been at 4.8 and protein at 3,8 – great numbers for excellent cheese production.
Wickstroms have relatively new freestall barns, but still have a couple old outdated ones that will eventually be replaced. A mister system and fans keep cows cool at the feed bunk and in the holding pen on their way to the parlor.
They process their dairy cows’ manure for all their freestall bedding. They use US Farm Systems to separate the manure solids, which are windrowed and dried, so the finished product is suitable to use as bedding.
“We’ve been using this system for the past four or five years and it has worked well for us and for our cows,” said Wickstrom.
A family operation
Mike and wife Margaret have two children, son Brent and daughter Ashlan. Scott and wife Cindy have two grown children, son Steve and daughter Jennifer. Steve attended Cal Poly and now works with the Wickstrom Bros. Dairy and is involved in their farming operation. Jennifer works for Central Counties DHIA. Brent is a dairy science student at Cal Poly, looking forward to joining the family business after graduation, and Ashlan is a high school senior.
The Wickstroms farm about 400 acres of cropland – both owned and leased ground. It provides about 80% of their livestock silage needs, Mike said.
MIG-L Construction of Hilmar was responsible for all the structural cement work and cinder block additions and extensions for the parlor and the holding pens.
GEA Farm Technologies – 60 stall WestfaliaSurge Magnum Autorotor; Hydraulic drive backup system; Metatron 21 Select milk meters; Ear tag RFID; DairyPlan C21 herd mgmt. software; Stimopuls Apex pulsator; Classic 300 E milking unit; 20 HP Air Force Vac Pump; Dual 30 HP Koolway packaged chiller; 210 gal. milk wash resevoir; Magnum Promotion crowd gate; 120 gal., Super Heater Heat Recovery.
MUELLER – Two 7,000 gal. vertical silos; Accu-Therm 130 plate heat exchanger.
BECO – PulsNexus networked pulsation monitoring.
■ To contact Kevin Clarot and John Pereira, Modern Dairy Equipment, call 209-668-5350.
■ To contact Wickstrom Jersey Farm, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.