Dornacker farm sports new look since first stint as Dairy Breakfast host

Gloria Hafemeister
Correspondent
Allen Dornacker stands in the new three-row freestall facility that was built when he installed three Lely A5 robotic milkers.  Guests visiting the Washington County Dairy Breakfast on June 11 will have the opportunity to tour the new facility and ask questions at various stations.

WEST BEND – It will be an encore performance for the Dornacker family, this year's host of the 2022 Washington County Dairy Breakfast on June 11.

The event will be held on the fifth generation dairy farm located at 5055 Cedar View Dr., between Allenton and Slinger in the town of Addison.

While it is the second time to host the event, visitors will see an entirely different dairy farm than they saw nearly 30 years ago when brothers Leo and Ralph and their families welcomed guests in 1993. At that time the Dornackers were milking about 100 cows in a double 6 herringbone milking parlor built in 1980.

When Leo retired in 2000, Allen purchased Leo’s half interest in the farm and formed Dornacker Prairie Acres LLC with his parents.

In 2004 they built a 58-by-100 foot heifer barn and increased their herd size. Four years later they added a solar calf barn and expanded the machine shop. 

Big changes to the milking facilities occurred in 2018 when Allen and his wife Nancy invested in a Lely A5 robotic milking facility sporting three robots. The three-row 70-by-440 foot expandable freestall facility serves to milks about 170 cows and also houses heifers. A new manure pit was part of the expansion.  

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“The manure pit increased our storage capacity from three months to a year’s worth,” Dornacker says.

In addition to the three robots, Dornacker says they're still milking about 100 cows in the milking parlor. They plan to install two additional robots by the end of the year, bringing all of the milking cows together under one roof.  

“The only way to cash flow the new barn was to keep milking in the old one, so we doubled our herd and went from 130 to 265 cows,” he said.

While it is the second time the Dornackers are hosting the Washington County Breakfast on the Farm event, visitors will see an entirely different dairy farm than they saw in 1993 when the family welcomed guests.

Guest visiting the dairy on June 11 are invited to walk through the new milking facility and view the robots in action. The dairy promotion committee will set up five stations throughout the building where videos will help explain the features in the barn. Volunteers will also be on hand to answer specific questions.

Currently the Dornackers raise their heifers and steers and finish out about half of the steers. Allen says they have been crossbreeding since 2016 using a three-way cross of Holstein, Montibeliarde and Swedish Red.

“The crosses have better conception rates, fewer health problems, and better butterfat and protein,” Dornacker says.  “Also, the calves are healthy and we lose very few of them.”

Cows in the robot facility are bedded with sand and alleys are cleaned with an automatic scraper.  A robotic feed pusher keeps the feed in front of the animals.

Animal comfort extends to the other facilities on the farm, where stalls are equipped with deep bedding, a practice they say has eliminated laminitis and swollen hocks and has decreased new mastitis cases dramatically.  The Dornackers began using the alternative animal paper bedding, a recycled product from the paper industry in 2013, and started using deep bedding in 2016. 

Allen says the increased cost of bedding material has been justified by the increased cow comfort, longevity, and fewer reproduction problems and instances of mastitis.

The family operates about 1000 acres of land and utilizes some custom harvesting services in order to keep up.  The family is assisted by a full time herdsman, three full-time workers and a crew of part time help.

Another noticeable change is the way feed is stored on the farm. When Ralph and Leo hosted the breakfast in 1993, feed was stored in Harvestore silos.  Allen noted with pride that his grandpa, George Dornacker was one of the first to erect Harvestore silos in the area.  George was also among the first in the area to set up a pipeline milking system in 1962.

This year Allen is switching from a bagged feed system to a bunker.

“With the bunkers dry matter is more consistent, for the animals,” he said.

The Harvestore silos are still used to store feed for the heifers and dry cows.

The family also made the decision to begin composting the bedding pack and waste feed in order to prevent vomitoxin from appearing in their forages. Rather than spreading the materials directly on the field, Allen now heats it to break it down and reduce odor.

Most of the liquid manure is hosed in to areas where they hoses can reach. The area is very populated with subdivisions and he is always seeking ways to eliminate odor.

For several years the Dornacker's have been growing cover crops on a good share of the acreage. He recently built a cover crop seeder outfitted for the front of the tractor so Allen can seed while side dressing nitrogen on the corn crop. The seeder can also be used with a vertical tillage tool.

After wheat harvest he plants peas and oats to use as a late fall forage. Rye is planted following the harvest of corn silage and in spring is planted into green and later killed off. Next year he plans to user a roller to crimp it and eliminate the need to spray.

Allen says he has used rye as spring forage prior to planting but only when he is short on feed.

Allen’s wife Nancy works a few days a week off the farm but she is also very involved with chores and bookwork on the farm as well.  Their four children Anna, Adam, Jack and Kate also help with chores.  Allen’s parents, Ralph and Arlene, remain active in the farm as well.

If you go

Parking will be available on the Stoffel dairy farm across the road from the Dornackers.  If fields are not suitable for parking there will be off-farm parking and busing from the nearby Slinger Speedway in Slinger.

According to Mike Strupp, the Washington County Dairy Promotion Committee will be serving up a traditional breakfast that has satisfied guests around the county since the 1980s.

Last year due to concerns about COVID the group held a Dairy Destination drive-thru which worked well but the committee is happy to be able to go back to the traditional popular event that has drawn thousands of visitors to area farms each June.