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Dairy secures future with energy-, labor-efficient upgrades

Sarah Lenkaitis Published on 31 December 2015
Dean and Clare Marshik

Clare Palmquist and her husband, Dean Marshik, knew they had a pivotal decision to make about the future of their dairy farm.

“We’d either continue to milk in our current facility until we retired or need to make an investment back into the facility to make it appealing to the next generation,” Palmquist explains.

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Marshik Dairy is located in Pierz, Minnesota, and has been in the Marshik family for more than 100 years. Clare and Dean began working with Dean’s parents on the farm in 1993. The farm then transitioned to Clare and Dean, the fifth generation, in 1999 and included an aging 81-cow tiestall barn.

While the 25-year-old facility had served the family’s needs well, there came a point where Clare and Dean’s four children had grown up and left the farm.

The couple saw surrounding farms struggling to secure their future as a dairy facility once the proprietors reached retirement age, so they agreed to begin looking at modernizing, as they wanted their dairy farm to last for future generations.

“No matter the industry, it can be difficult to find employees,” Palmquist says. “As we planned for the future of our dairy farm and evaluated potential facility updates, it was important to keep in mind labor availability along with the next generation’s interest in technology."

"We knew our future would include technology to help employees manage and take care of the cows and the environment versus relying on physical labor alone.” In 2010, Clare and Dean began implementing their farm upgrades, including robotic milkers (two DeLaval guided-flow voluntary milking systems) and housing facilities equipped with new technology.

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With the transition from physical labor to some automation, Clare and Dean were also keen on optimizing the energy efficiency of the new facilities and utilizing green energy sources. Because of the farm’s ideal location on a hill, the couple had successfully added a 20-kW wind turbine four years prior, in 2008.

Palmquist explains, “We knew we had a lot of wind coming through, and we saw it as an opportunity to offset our energy needs in the tiestall barn. While the energy generated day-to-day depended on the wind, the overall performance of the turbine was good and covered approximately 25 percent of our electrical needs at that time.”

The new barn design for 155 cows provided several opportunities for energy-efficient measures to be taken. The couple first researched different technologies and then brought in a consultant and worked with the local power company to help evaluate what was the best fit for the farm and its future.

Because of the proven wind performance, Clare and Dean chose to build a cross-ventilated barn with temperature-controlled air curtains. “Day-to-day, the curtains help us provide a consistent, optimum environment for the cows,” Palmquist says.

“The curtains close to use the cows’ heat to keep the barn warm in cool weather, and while the cross-ventilated barn stays cool in the majority of the warm weather, we elected to add fans and misters for the particularly hot days to help keep the cows comfortable.”

In addition to utilizing the wind, the dairy also added a 44-panel, 10.73-kW roof-mounted solar energy system to also capture energy.

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marshik dairyPalmquist mentions she is particularly excited about the potential of solar thermal (using the energy to heat water), as the facility needs water to both wash the bulk tank and the robots – which oftentimes occurs simultaneously and taxes the hot water system. Clare and Dean are currently looking at adding up to 20 more solar panels to help fulfil the need.

Not only does the upgraded dairy generate green energy, but Clare and Dean also made sure the new equipment they invested in would be energy-efficient.

“We wanted to make smart, economical decisions that would also minimize our energy costs and take advantage of grants and rebates offered,” Palmquist says.

While all systems were designed with energy efficiency in mind, a few highlights of the new facility include a plate cooler with a heat exchanger to pre-cool the milk, efficient water heaters and vacuum pumps, and automated alley scrapers and curtains with low-horsepower motors.

The barn is also outfitted with energy-saving T8 fluorescent lighting which, after a rebate, had penciled out to be the same cost as traditional lighting for Clare and Dean.

Since the couple has completed their facility updates, they have hosted a number of tours and events at the farm.

“Our door is always open,” Palmquist says. In addition to connecting their local community to the farm to see the changes made, Clare and Dean also host other farmers looking to move their farms forward.

“It’s great to see the excitement the younger generation has in dairy farming and new technology,” she adds. “They are always very interested to see our farm, and they ask the right questions.”

Updates like the ones made at Marshik Dairy are a large investment. However, Palmquist says it was important to her and Dean to make them to ensure the next generation could continue the farm that Dean’s great-great grandfather had started in 1880.

Today, the couple’s son has come back to the farm following serving in the military. He’s spending his first year back learning “from bottom to top,” according to Palmquist, and he is excited about utilizing and gaining a deeper understanding of the new technology and equipment.

“We’re excited at the prospect of our son continuing the dairy farm, and we’ll continue looking at technology to make the farm efficient and sustainable for generations.”  PD

Sarah Lenkaitis is a freelance writer and dairy farmer in Saint Charles, Illinois.

PHOTO 1: Clare Palmquist and her husband, Dean Marshik, made investments in the farm based on the lack of labor availability and the next generation’s interest in technology.

PHOTO 2: Because of their energy-efficient barn design, Clare Palmquist and Dean Marshik were honored with a Dairy Sustainability Award in 2014 from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Photos provided by Dairy Management, Inc.

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