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Better building plans can
increase pleasure and profit

By Tim King

A well-conceived, well-built milking parlor can increase the pleasure and profit obtained from owning and working with dairy goats. A poorly designed parlor can waste time and cause a goat owner to dread milking time. Leslie Cooperbrand, Illinois; Vincent Maefsky, Minnesota; Noah Goddard, Kansas; and Sandra Bagwell, Kentucky, dairy goat enthusiasts in different stages of the production field, had some good advice to offer those looking to get set up to milk dairy goats.

Leslie and her husband, Wes Jarrell, plan to establish a farmstead cheese making operation. As part of their planning process they visited other goat dairies and made numerous rough drawings of their evolving concept of an efficient parlor.

Leslie finds making, and then changing, rough preliminary drawings to be a part of the process of realizing her and her husband’s dream. But they have taken these plans a step further. They’ve made their parlor, milk house, barn, and cheese making facility part of an over all business plan that they are realizing one organized step at a time. Over a three year period they intend to gradually increase their herd to 30 milking does. They plan to build a parlor where they will have two rows of four goats with the capacity to milk eight at a time.

"Most of the parlors that we’ve looked at have elevated platforms, and that is what we plan to do," Copperbrand said. "Concrete seems to be the standard material."

Cooperbrand and Jarrell have a projected pay-back for their investment and they are tracking both capital and operating costs closely.

"We have a financial projections spreadsheet that includes feed costs, and other operating costs. We have projected income from the sale of goat cheese and non-desired breeding stock," Copperbrand said.

One feature common in their view of efficient parlors, noticed by the couple, was a door for goats coming into the parlor to be milked and a separate door for goats going out of the parlor after they’ve been milked. If more than one shift is being milked, whether it’s a dozen or 1,000 goats, headaches can be prevented and time saved by having in and out doors in the parlor. Vincent Maefsky’s Poplar Hill Dairy in Minnesota has in/out parlor doors. And Maefsky is pleased with this efficiency.

"When our goats go out of the parlor they are back in the barn but separate from the goats that haven’t been milked yet," said Maefsky, who designed his dairy barn by quarters, creating four separate free stall pens.

Being efficient about moving goats in and out of the parlor doesn’t mean they are rushed through their milking. At Maefsky’s Poplar Hill dairy the parlor can hold 48 goats at a time. That’s a lot of goats but the principle Vincent applies is relevant to a smaller dairy. He employs only two milking-hands. They each milk 12 goats at a time. They are also responsible for moving the goats into and out of the parlor.

"That gives the goats plenty of time to eat their grain while they are in the parlor," Maefsky said.

These lovely Nubian does are the base of Leslie Copperbrand and Wes Jarrell's dream to build a commercial goat cheese operation in Illinois.
These lovely Nubian does are the base of Leslie Copperbrand and Wes Jarrell’s dream to build a commercial goat cheese operation in Illinois.

At Poplar Hill the goats get all the grain they want but only in the milking parlor. This creates an incentive for them to come into the parlor in the first place.

Maefsky, like Copperbrand and Jarrell, spent a lot of time visiting other dairies before he built his own parlor. He included visits to both goat and cow dairies a part of his studies.

"Through the years, I sketched plans of ‘the big barn,’ and as often as I put pencil to paper, I put eraser to lines," he said. "The dream underwent constant changes and modifications."

It may seem obvious that the parlor and the milkhouse be situated under one roof, but for years, at Poplar Hill, milk was carried in transfer buckets from the milking parlor to a separate building. This was because the Maefskys bought a farm that had a number of buildings and, rather than go to the expense of constructing new buildings, they utilized the existing buildings on the farm. It was a long time before Maefsky felt he could afford what he knew he needed. He now has a barn, parlor, milk house, office, and storage space all under one roof.

Maefsy found that combining functions under one roof lowered his heating costs as well. Although he provided for off-peak electrical heat in the parlor, he found that excess heat from the equipment in his milk house could be used, with good air circulation, to help heat the parlor during the winter. With the heat from the goats’ bodies and the heat from the warm milk in the pipelines supplementing heat from the milk house, Maefsky rarely pays more than $100 per winter to heat the entire complex.

Heat will be a major addition to Noah and Sue Goddard’s dairy operation near Lecompton, KS.

The Goddards have been selling raw milk from their farm for years. Now that they’ve retired they are immersed in plans to upgrade their facilities to Grade A commercial status so they can sell some bottled milk and make cheese, yet continue to supply their dedicated raw milk customers.

"We already have a 36 by 14 parlor but we’ll rip that off and make the entire building 36 by 22 feet to meet Grade A requirements plus make our operation more efficient," Noah Goddard said.

In addition to in and out parlor doors, one of the key factors in efficiency for the Goddards is that the entire facility will be climate controlled.

"What we now have has a concrete floor and bug screens but no heat," Goddard said. "Currently our milk parlor is 14 x16 and the processing room where we have the sink, water heater, freezer and refrigerator is about the same size but only this room is heated. So we now have to take our milking machine into the processing area during the winter to keep it from freezing and then bring it back out during milk times twice a day. The new facility will be climate controlled with both heat and air conditioning so that we can work comfortably the year round without freezing pipes and hoses."

The building will not only be warm but everything will be under one roof-parlor, milk house, barn, and even the small retail store the Goddards are setting up.

Since the Goddards will be a Grade A dairy they are required to have toilet facilities in the parlor/milk house complex. The toilet is a requirement of the federal dairy regulations that are administered by the various states. The Grade A regulations also state that the toilet have a disposal system acceptable to local officials. In Goddard’s case that is the local combined city and county health department.

"The state dairy inspector has the guidelines for the toilet and the local officials have the rules for the septic system and sometimes they don’t agree," he said.

Other Grade A requirements include sealed cement floors, washable walls, good lighting, recessed electrical outlets, stainless steel washing sinks, tight fitting doors, and adequate milk cooling such as a refrigerated bulk tank.

Goddard, who hoped to have has parlor and expanded milk house completed by the fall of 2004, only had the septic system in by early November. A very rainy summer caused construction to crawl forward in fits and starts. Meanwhile the Goddards have seen their estimated cost for the project escalate despite two years of careful planning.

"We think we will get this done for around $60,000 plus another $40,000 for the equipment including the automatic bottler, cooling/holding tank, and pasteurizer," said Goddard, who is working with a Canadian company that imports small-scale equipment from France.

Goddard’s advice for others who want to build a Grade A parlor is to understand the state and local regulations, then plan and plan some more, and then be prepared for unexpected problems.

For those not planning to go to the expense of a Grade A dairy with on-farm processing equipment but just looking for a clean, comfortable, and inexpensive place to milk goats, Sandra Bagwell of Paducah, Kentucky thinks she may have found a solution. She purchased a vinyl 10 x 12 foot building kit from Royal Outdoor (www.royaloutdoor.com/premierseries.html). She described it as going together easily, like big set of Legos.

"I have milked in the open, on my front porch, and in my father’s garage, and believe that this will be an economical solution to my milking needs," Sandra wrote.

She hoped the state inspector would approve the building so that she can begin selling raw milk for animal use and for human consumption by spring.

"I just hope we have enough milk because there are a large number of people wanting the goat milk," she said.

While Copperbrand, Maefsky, Goddard, and Bagwell are building to meet different demands and markets, they all agree that planning and studying options is the only way to better their chances of success in the world of dairy goat milk production.

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