Florida is regularly being beat down by hurricanes; that is why constructing a new parlor can be a difficult yet rewarding process.
At Larson Dairy Inc. near Okeechobee, Fla., the threat of tropical storms and hurricane force winds is just a part of doing business. When Travis Larson, co-owner, decided to construct a new parlor to replace the existing unit that was more than 25 years old, he wanted to make sure it could last as long with fewer headaches.
"Our existing parlor that we are milking in now is just wore out. It has been wore out for about five years," Larson says. "With bad milk prices and high feed costs we’ve just put it off and patched, but we’re done patching now."
Florida’s humid climate has decayed some of Larson’s parlor because it was constructed with galvanized metal, making the facility’s usefulness more like 15 years but the timing wasn’t right to expand in the past 10 years. Plans were started in 2008 to construct a new parlor, but then the economic landscape changed.
"We were in a pretty good economic time for the dairy industry in 2008. We were looking hard, then all of a sudden 2009 hit and we just slammed the breaks and closed the doors on it," Larson says of building the new parlor.
When milk prices picked back up last summer Larson "dusted off" the plans from 2008 and started to lay down the groundwork for an expansion he hopes will extend the 3rd generation operation to the 4th generation. Larson milks 2,200 cows at the dairy he manages, while his brother runs the same number of cows at the family’s other dairy just down the road. His father and grand-father are still actively involved as well.
Larson’s replacing the old double-32 parallel with an updated double-40 parallel allowing the facility to increase capacity and in the future expand to possibly 3,000 cows.
The new facility will feature stainless steel to get away from the problems that occurred with the galvanized parlor.
Also, in making sure the dairy would last Larson designed the barn to stand up to regular wind-loads exceeding 140 mph. He did this out of necessity because in 2004 his barns were half tinned after Hurricane Francis and then two weeks later Hurricane Jeanne.
"We milked on generators for 24 days that September and had no fans," Larson adds. "Hurricanes in August are the wet ones; hurricanes in September are the ones that will blow your house down."
A 500 kW generator will service the dairy when the electricity goes out. Larson hopes the power outages will be limited since the main power will come from an on-the-ground transformer.
"The main reason it is on the ground is because it is such a big service the pole couldn’t hold it," Larson relates that it will be easier for the electric company to service the transformer during times of need.
Safety will be another feature unique to the new parlor.
"With hurricanes it not like they’re here and they’re gone. They sit here and they’re on top of you and they just beat you and beat you," Larson says. "Francis stood here for 24 hours and just beat on you. Both storms we actually had to shut down when it got that rough. You pull your people in between your milk tanks and huddle down."
In the center of the office area of the new parlor Larson has a safe room that will double as a break room for employees. The room is completely surrounded by concrete walls, including the ceiling.
Impact resistance windows were installed in the surrounding rooms that will break if enough force is applied, but they won’t shatter.
Cow comfort was not over looked either.
"Cooling in this barn is going to be way better than in our existing barn. It is a lot higher off the ground and a lot more open. The old style Florida dairies have concrete walls and very little air movement. They’re a hot box in the summer," Larson adds.
The new barn will feature several rows of fans and offers more space for cows to spread out before and after milking.
Larson hopes to be completely finished with construction by the first week of October.