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Building pace picks up at Rock Prairie Dairy

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Catherine W. Idzerda
September 27, 2011
— It’s not a construction site that brings the word “moo” immediately to mind.

As motorists traveling on Highway 11/14 crest a gentle hill, the site pops expectedly from the placid landscape.


The skeletal shells of buildings more than 1,000 feet long extend into cornfields. Semitrailer trucks and heavy construction equipment access the site from a turn lane built especially for them.


Motorists might be surprised to learn that “moo,” in fact, is just the right word.


T.J. Tuls plans that Rock Prairie Dairy on Nov. 15 will begin milking what eventually will become the largest dairy herd in Rock County. The facility will be capable of milking 4,600 cows and housing a total of 5,200.


Tuls, who will be managing the operation, is the son of Nebraska dairyman Todd Tuls.


Although some barns are unfinished, other parts of the $30 million, 160-acre construction project are close to being done.


In the milking parlor, the complex network of piping that will carry milk from the cows, through filters and out to the tanker trucks is almost finished. Eight squares have been cut in the parlor’s outer wall to accommodate the connection between the tankers and the pipes.


Heating cables run beneath the wide walkway between the parlor and the tanker docks. The heated walk will reduce problems with snow and ice in what will be a crucial work area.


Inside, the milking parlor will feature two sets of milking stations, each able to accommodate 70 cows. Cows will be milked three times a day, with enough time between each milking to cleanup and get ready for the next group, Tuls said.


When everything is up on running, the farm will produce about 50,000 gallons of milk a day.


Cows will be housed in barns more than 1,000-feet long and varying in width from 100 to 128 feet. The widest barn will serve as the farm’s maternity ward. Another will house dry cows.


In the summer, 40 massive fans at the end of each barn and another 26 in the middle will keep animals cool. Barn temperatures are also controlled by curtain-like walls that extend from the roofline down to the middle of the outer walls.


Thermostats control the fans and curtain walls, adjusting to meet changing conditions.


During a recent winter in Nebraska, ambient temperatures lingered around 17 degrees below zero with a wind chill factor that made it feel like 40 degrees below. During that cold spell, the air temperature in the barn never went below 0 degrees, Tuls said.


Massive concrete bunkers near the barns will hold corn, soybean meal and hay. Nearby, about 1,500 acres of corn silage has been piled up, ready for use.


On the farm’s opening day, 500 cows will be moved into the facility, and everything will have to be in place and working: staff, mechanical and computer systems, the water-powered process that removes manure and sand from the barns, the machine that prepares the total mix rations and the milking equipment itself.


How crazy will move-in day be?


Not too bad, said Tuls, who has been through it before on his father’s farms in Nebraska.


“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Tuls said.



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