Bonikowske dairy farm expands with new parlor and freestall barn

Dan Hansen
The Bonikowske farm’s new tunnel ventilated barn provides year-round comfort for their 380-cow herd.

MANAWA – During this challenging economic time, many dairy farmers are considering selling their herds or even getting out of farming altogether.

The Bonikowske family has a more optimistic outlook toward dairy farming, and is striving to increase efficiency by expanding its operation.

This third-generation dairy farm, located in central Waupaca County, has continued to grow strategically over the last decade.

Brothers Dan and Chad, along with their parents, Todd and Pam, increased their herd to 200 cows in 2008 when they built a four-row freestall barn and converted their stanchion barn into a low-cost double-eight, step-up parlor.

New parlor

In the spring of 2018, they expanded again to 380 cows with a new six-row, 360-stall drive-through tunnel-ventilated freestall barn and built a double-twelve DeLaval stainless steel parlor.

The new facilities were visited by area farmers during the recent Cow College farm tour.

“We currently milk twice a day, and with two milkers per shift, and we can milk 100 more cows in the same amount of time than we could with our old parlor,” Dan said.

The new parlor building also houses offices and bathrooms. “We located the milk house so the flow line would go under the concrete and the milk would flow directly into the bulk tank,” Dan explained.

When expanding their operation, the family thought about going to a robotic system, but decided against it. “Every farm is different, and we felt a parlor was best for our needs and budget,” Dan said.

The herd was moved into the new barn just after the epic snowstorm of April 2018, which had collapsed three sections of the old freestall barn.

Despite the challenging transition, daily milk production is back to 75 pounds per cow with twice per-day milking, and 3.8 percent fat and 3.2 percent protein. Additional labor for milking is provided by four full-time employees and one milker who works part time.

“We’re trying to figure out a way to arrange our current labor force to schedule a third milking in order to maximize the efficiency of our parlor,” Dan said.

New barn

The new tunnel ventilated barn includes 34 variable-speed, direct-drive energy-efficient fans that provide year-round comfort to four groups of milk cows, including post-fresh, confirmed pregnant, bred (or to-be bred) and late lactation. “The fans are set to come on when the temperature gets above 42 degrees,” Dan said.

The old freestall barn now houses breeding-age and bred heifers on the south side of the feed alley, with dry cows, pre-fresh and freshening pens on the north.

All bull calves are sold, and heifers calves are housed in individual outdoor hutches and fed milk replacer with water and starter until weaning. 

“After weaning, small groups of calves are housed in super-hutches until they’re moved to heifer pens in the old freestall barn, and all heifers are bull bred,” Dan noted.

Manure handling

A new 4-million-gallon concrete manure pit is connected to the old pit with an 18-inch overflow pile that allows sand to settle out in the smaller original pit while allowing the liquid to flow into the new larger pit.

Manure from the cow and heifer barns is collected by alley scrapers to a cross-channel auger/pump system. The sand-laden manure is then transferred to the original 1 million-gallon concrete pit. Parlor waste is also transferred to the original pit using a separate collection system.

“The smaller pit will eventually fill up and spill water and manure into the second pit,” said Dan. “Ideally, there shouldn’t be much sand getting into the second pit.”

Custom harvesting and manure hauling is employed over 900 acres of crop land including 500 acres of corn, 300 acres of alfalfa haulage and 50 acres of soybeans.

They feed a one-group TMR that includes 60 percent silage, 40 percent haylage, plus liquid molasses and a protein mix. Dry cows are fed silage and grass hay.