Kyle Koester (left) talks about the freestall barn on the dairy operation during the Dairy Technology Showcase, hosted by Dave Fischer (right). The family milks 290 registered Holstein cows three times a day. The barn was constructed several years ago and the milking parlor is a double 10 with a vertical lift and room to expand to a double 12.
Kyle Koester (left) talks about the freestall barn on the dairy operation during the Dairy Technology Showcase, hosted by Dave Fischer (right). The family milks 290 registered Holstein cows three times a day. The barn was constructed several years ago and the milking parlor is a double 10 with a vertical lift and room to expand to a double 12.
DAKOTA, Ill. — The goal at Koester Dairy is to breed good, functional dairy cows.

“We are not a show herd, but we are 100 percent registered,” said Dan Koester, who owns the dairy operation together with his wife, Amber, and their children. “We are almost 100-percent home bred, except for two heifers we bought recently.”

The operation was started in 1956, when Dan’s parents moved to the 120-acre farm near Dakota.

“We’ve made lots of changes over the last five to 10 years,” the dairyman said during the Dairy Technology Showcase, sponsored by the Illinois Milk Producers’ Association. “I farmed with my brother and father for many years, and then we dissolved the partnership.”

Today, the family milks 290 Holstein cows three times a day, at 5 a.m., 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.

“Our son, Lance, is the crops and machinery maintenance guy, Kyle is the milker and business manager and Brent takes care of the calves,” Koester said. “Lance’s wife, Cynthia, also milks and we have one employee who helps with milking.”

Free-Stall Barn

The free-stall barn and milking parlor was built on the farm several years ago, and the herd averages 34,000 pounds of milk.

“The Koester Dairy has been the top dairy in the state for almost 10 years,” said Dave Fischer, University of Illinois retired Extension dairy educator.

“We do quite a bit of embryo transfer work to increase the genetics,” Koester said. “We select bulls high in total performance index and high net merit.”

“The parlor is a double 10 with a vertical lift, and we have the space to expand to double 12,” Kyle Koester said. “It has in-floor heat, and we added the rubber mats, which have helped the cows be more comfortable.”

Two people work together at each milking with each person taking care of five cows.

“We can milk 100 cows per hour,” Koester said.

The dairymen also have considered adding rubber mats in the return lanes.

“The return lanes have in-floor heat, which I thought was a waste of money until this past winter,” Koester said.

The free-stall barn is 123 feet wide with six rows.

“The stalls are 50 inches, and we added the fans over the headlocks this spring,” he said. “We added the fans because it was muggy in the feed alley.”

Alleys are scraped three times a day during milkings.

“Our manure system is gravity flow, we don’t have any pumps,” Koester explained. “In the spring, we pump the liquids down as far as we can go, and in the fall, we clean the pit all out.”

Feed piles for the herd are made on a blacktop pad.

Feeding The Herd

The dairymen harvest all the feed for the herd except the corn silage.

“We had shredlage made last year, and Brent does the pile building,” his brother said. “We cover the piles with black plastic and a vapor barrier.”

“If you can push your pen into the face of the pile, it is probably under 15 pounds per cubic foot of dry matter,” explained Mike Hutjens, retired U of I professor of animal sciences. “My guess for this pile is 18 pounds per cubic foot.”

Hutjens added the cut of the shredlage was a good length.

“I think you’ll see people move away from the long shredlage product because of compaction and sorting,” he said. “This looks like three-quarters of an inch long, and I think it looks really good.”

The dairymen converted their tie-stall barn into a calf barn.

“We feed the calves milk replacer twice a day,” Brent Koester said. “We put in the panels in to get more air flow through the barn. Even though there is contact between the calves, we thought the ventilation was more key than complete separation.”

Calves receive milk replacer until they are eight to nine weeks old.

“The first week they are on bottles and then we go to pails,” Koester said.

At about six weeks of age the calves are dehorned.

Last fall, a new heifer barn was built. It replaced a bed-pack shed.

“That shed had bad ventilation, and we needed to make room for additional heifers,” Kyle Koester explained. “This barn has free stalls because they are easier to clean.”

Calves come into the heifer barn at about seven months of age and leave at 17 to 18 months.

“When we bring a new group in, three or four will lie in the alley the first day, and then they figure it out,” the dairyman said. “They use the stalls pretty well.”

The heifer barn also is designed so that in winter sunlight reaches the stalls, but in summer it prevents direct sunlight on the stalls.