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Roger and Sandy Grade and their family recently hosted an open house of their remodeled facilities including a new milking parlor and holding area. They are now housing their 80 cows in the area that formerly had stanchions. The couple, center, and their son-in-law who recently joined the business, Travis Clark, is at right.

Roger and Sandy Grade and their family recently hosted an open house of their remodeled facilities including a new milking parlor and holding area. They are now housing their 80 cows in the area that formerly had stanchions. The couple, center, and their son-in-law who recently joined the business, Travis Clark, is at right. Photo By Gloria Hafemeister

Eldorado producers share remodeling experiences

Dec. 27, 2012 | 0 comments


In 1972 when subdivisions started to surround the farm where Roger Grade grew up in Washington County, Roger and Sandy Grade decided to relocate in order to continue the farming tradition.

The Grades moved to a 135-acre dairy farm near Eldorado in Fond du Lac County and have gradually grown their farm in the years that followed adding acres for cash crops and adding cows to their herd.

The name of their farm — Vision Aire — reflects their dream of bringing their family into the business.

The most recent change in the family’s business made way for their daughter Janet and her husband Travis Clark to join her parents and brother David in the dairy operation.

The family hosted a tour last week to show how they remodeled their facilities to modernize in an affordable way that will take the family to the next level of dairy production.

Options for small-sized dairy operations to continue in the business usually include remodeling the present barn and adding more stalls, building a freestall barn and parlor at a new location, or building a new freestall barn and some type of retrofit parlor inside their present stall barn.

While many of those who choose to utilize their current dairy barn put the milking parlor in the old barn and build a freestall barn, the Grades decided instead to build a new parlor alongside the stall barn and locate freestalls inside the old barn.

With a Spancrete ceiling in the barn that was built in the late 1950s they located the utility room upstairs in the barn that also holds a large supply of big square bales of straw and hay.

The heated utility room includes a 4,000-gallon poly tank, a 3 hp water pump for cow waterers, a 1 hp wash-down pump and the variable speed vacuum pump.

The family remodeled the previous 70-stall barn to include 67 freestalls with deep sand bedding. Stalls are 48" by 11’ with eight stalls at the north end of the barn shorter to make room for the walkway.

David Grade explains, "We had mats in our previous barn but we had problems with swollen hocks. Now with the sand we have improved the somatic cell count and we feel it’s better for cow longevity."

A hoof trimming chute is located at the end of the barn and can also be used for surgeries.

Travis Clark says they routinely have a hoof trimmer come but this chute makes it possible to do some trimming in between visits.

He particularly likes the idea of having a safe, handy place for the veterinarian to perform surgeries or do treatments.

Tunnel ventilation with four 48" fans on the north end keeps the moisture out in winter and provides cooling in summer. All fans run on thermostats.

In the remodeling process they were able to utilize the same ventilation system but simply reversed it to allow for the opening on the south end of the barn.

Feedbunks are located outside with 65 headlocks.

The family also remodeled the heifer loafing barn, built in 1980, into a 34-stall sand bedded freestall barn with outside feeding and 50 headlocks. Forty-eight cows are housed in this building.


The Double 8 herring-bone pit parlor was constructed as a new lean-to on the barn. The overall parlor dimensions are 23’ by 58’. The operator’s pit is 7’10" by 40’.

With one milker and one person moving cows and also assisting with milking they are able to milk 125 cows in two and one-half hours.

The holding area is designed to hold 100 cows. It has two 52" fans that are operated on a variable frequency drive. The exterior wall has clear plexiglass panels on hinges that allow light in and can be opened or closed according to the temperature.

The hoof bath is 12-foot long and designed based on the recommendations of Dr. Nigel Cook of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin. It is self-filling and automatically drains by gravity flow through a PVC pipe.

Heifers are raised off the farm with calves leaving the farm at six months and returning when they are 60 days pregnant. Springing heifers and dry cows are housed at a second farm just down the road.


Roger Grade says for many years they milked 70 cows in the stanchion barn but with another family joining the business they started milking in shifts and began to make plans for expansion.

They faced a few challenges in deciding how to modernize their facilities. They chose to locate freestalls in the old barn rather than the parlor because they did not need to move any posts.

They also were able to utilize more of the barn without losing space.

He says, "We didn’t need to deal with milking cows during the remodeling process, either. That made the construction period easier."

They have a busy highway in front of the buildings and a high electric line behind the buildings.

Eventually they may build an entirely new facility, including parlor and freestall barn but this was an economical way to take the first step in expansion.

Likely the next step will be to bring their heifers back home and build a new freestall barn for the dairy cows.

If expansion continues they feel they can eventually use the current lean-to parlor for a special needs parlor and construct a new milking center.


Tina Kohlman, Fond du Lac County UW-Extension dairy agent, addressed the importance of cow comfort considerations when planning a remodeling project.

She also points to the importance of considering future expansion even if it is not in the current plan.

Roger Kaminski of Central Ag Supply at Juneau was instrumental in planning the layout and design of the system.

He said, "When you start retrofitting you never know what you find. In the case of the Grade project, it was better to keep the parlor out of the existing barn but we still had to work with roof lines and floor grade while addressing cow comfort, safety and other issues."

He said retrofits mean lots of visits to the farm to measure and re-measure to make sure everything will fit.

He believes it worked well, however, because he was able to design the layout of the facilities completely and then provide those plans to the construction company actually doing the remodeling and building.

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