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WAUPACA – The Brooks’ family farms, located along Cty. Rd. A, south of Waupaca, was one of  four Wisconsin dairy farm families to open their farm to the public for a recent guided tour, a dish of ice cream, and an evening of discussion focused on working to strengthen the state’s rural communities.

The Agricultural Community Engagement (ACE) on-the-farm twilight meetings are sponsored jointly by the Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Towns Association and the Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW).  

The sixth-generation dairy and grain farm is managed by the father-daughter duo of Ron and Zoey Brooks. Ron serves as chief executive officer of the family LLC, managing the overall direction and crop farming, with Zoey managing the dairy as chief operations officer. 

They raise crops on 1,600 acres, and recently completed an 18-month expansion project that included a new freestall barn and milking facility that features a double-16 Germania herringbone parlor. Currently milking 300 cows twice each day, the family plans to expand the milking herd to 700 cows over the next few years.

Milking facility

Ron noted that the entrance to the dairy facility serves as a fresh-air intake for the parlor. “There are six fans and you can barely hear them because all the air is filtered,” he said. 

Immediately inside the front entrance is a visitors’ center designed to accommodate small groups, with windows looking into the milking area. “This enables visitors to see the cows being milked without disturbing the cows or the milkers,” Ron explained.

There’s also an upper-level observation area that gives visitors a different viewing angle of the milking operation. Many of the light fixtures and other items in the visitors’ center are make from repurposed dairy equipment.

Ron pointed out that the actual milking is done by one person, while another one pushes cows into the parlor.”There are no milk lines or pulsator lines in the parlor,” he said. “It’s super clean and totally silent. About the only sound is the cows’ breathing. We spent a lot of time revamping equipment, mostly for sound attenuation. It’s a good place to be a cow because it’s really relaxing.”

Freestall barns

Other than four registered animals that were purchased, the Brooks family raises all herd replacements and animals needed for herd expansion. “We believe we can raise better cows than we can buy because we breed to the best Holstein bulls,” said Ron’s father, Dodge Brooks.

The new freestall barn, adjacent to the milking facility was completed earlier this year. New calf and heifer barns also have been built in recent years. The old freestall cow barn is now used for hay and straw storage, and may eventually be taken down.

In the new barn, the maternity and special-needs’ cows are housed in pens near the front entrance. “All the cows that need the most attention are where people have to walk past them five or six times a day,” explained Ron.

Proper ventilation is also a key component in the barn’s design. “We went with computer-controlled ceiling fans and 16-foot sidewalls to help keep the cows comfortable while reducing noise and dust,” Ron related. 

Sand is use to bed cows in the new barn, just as it was is the old one. Ron describes it as the “gold standard” of bedding because it doesn’t support any bacterial growth, but acknowledges the downside is the wear it causes on equipment due to its abrasiveness.
 
The new barn was designed for the installation of solar panels. “WE Energies will not let me put them up,” said Ron. The solar array installed on our other barn currently produces about $7,000 worth of electricity each year.
 
“If I put up one more solar panel, my grandfathered agreement (with the utility) will be negated, and I’ll  have to sell my energy wholesale, but after my agreement is over, we’ll probably fill this roof with panels,” he added.

Quality calves

Two years ago, the family built a new calf barn, and started breeding more for gender selection. “We’re going to do some flushing of high genomic animals, and right now about 70 percent of the calves being born are female,” said Ron. 
 
He noted that milk for the calves is pumped underground to the calf barn. “We like this because we’re not dragging hoses into the barn,” he explained. 
 
Daily weight gain for calves currently ranges between 2.5 and 2.8 pounds. “A calf that weighs 100 pounds will drink about 25 pounds of milk every day,” said Ron. “That milk is also supplemented with protein (muscle-building) powder to get the solids up to 15 percent because we have such a low somatic cell count (50,000) which makes our solids artificially low,” he added.

The colostrum and milk fed to the calves is not pasteurized.

“I have a theory,” said Ron, “that with our low somatic cell perhaps we’re inoculating these calves with pathogens early in their lives that they’re building an immunity response, and when they see that pathogen again as lactating animals they have a faster immune response. We, basically, don’t have any mastitis.”

Open house celebration

Brooks Farms is celebrating its new dairy facility with a special open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, with food and refreshments.

“We invite other dairy producers, and the public to help us celebrate as we recognize the many local businesses that made our dairy expansion possible,” said Ron.

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