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SUFFIELD, Ohio — If you didn’t see the ISO RFID tag in the cows’ ears as they entered the new BouMatic Xcalibur 90LX milking parlor at Congress Lake Farms, you might swear the system had the same magical powers as King Arthur’s legendary sword with the same name.
The automatic radio frequency identification that helps track a cow’s milk production, herd health and breeding is not new, but the use of those ID eartags in the new automated sorting system is nothing short of magical, say the Rufener family members, who welcomed visitors to see their new parlor and freestall barn during an open house Nov. 3.
“We don’t have to chase cows anymore!” said owner Kenny Rufener, the fourth generation to operate the Portage County farm.
Long time coming
Rufener, 67, and his sons, Mike , 38, and Ken, 31, have been considering a new milking parlor for at least five years. The old herringbone parlor, built in 1979, was being pushed past its limit to milk the 600+ head of cows three times a day.
They toured facilities in Arizona, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania and Canada, gathering and finetuning ideas, and checking out equipment and manufacturers. The new construction includes a new freestall barn, holding area and double 16 parallel parlor.
One of the reasons they chose to go with BouMatic was that “they’re an American-made company,” Mike said. Well, that and the ISO identification and sorting system called SmartEID (link opens .pdf).
“It’s really convenient and uses a lot less labor,” explained Mike Rufener, who manages the herd.
An antenna records each individual cow as she enters the parlor. In addition to the parlor identification of each cow for recording milk weights, the ID reader also works with a sort gate system to channel cows into a side area for artificial insemination, pregnancy check or other reasons.
It means they can separate cows without having to manually identify them, and then chasing them, Mike said.
“It’s just so easy.”
Wayne County-based W.G. Dairy Supply sold and installed the parlor and identification system.
Construction started last November on the basement that houses the milk receivers/weigh jars, milk pipelines, pumps and other “guts” of the milking system, until freezing winter weather forced a halt. But the break let the family regroup and think more about the construction plans.
The parlor was finished in June, and the family started moving cows through the new parlor June 24. They started bringing cows in around 7 a.m., and by noon, they had moved only about a third of the herd through. The cows were used to the older herringbone setup, and needed to learn how to use the parallel stalls, which requires them to make a 90-degree turn to enter the stall with their heads down. A sequence gate swings shut behind them, so the next cow in line only has the choice to enter the next stall. A rapid-exit lift system opens fully after all the cows on a side are milked.
The Rufeners used both their old and new parlors until the first of July.
“It was a nightmare,” admitted Ken Sr., “but it’s slick now.”
“The best thing about it, is that if we had to do it over again, we’d do it the same way,” said Mike Rufener.
The Rufeners farm about 3,000 rented and owned acres, raising their own feed, as well as cash grain. They raise their own replacement calves and heifers, and also raise their bull calves, feeding out about 300 steers a year.
“It keeps us diversified,” explained Ken Sr.
They have no plans to expand the herd, and are now milking 600+ registered Holsteins three times a day, at 1 p.m., 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Among all the farms’ enterprises, they employ about 10 full-time workers and another four part-time employees.