A group of pre-fresh cows relax in their newly designed transition barn at the Bailies’ farm Dec. 20, 2021, near Livingston, Wisconsin.
A group of pre-fresh cows relax in their newly designed transition barn at the Bailies’ farm Dec. 20, 2021, near Livingston, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER

LIVINGSTON, Wis. – Two years ago, when the Bailie family found their facilities nearing maximum capacity, they started thinking about the smartest way to accommodate the growing herd. In doing so, the family updated their housing facilities near Livingston where they milk 1,100 cows on two sites. 

“Pretty much all of this was revamped this summer,” Matt Bailie said.
Six months into the setup – a new transition barn, an addition to their freestall barn for the milking herd, and upgrades to heifer housing and milking facilities for fresh cows – the Bailies are already seeing improvements in their herd.
 “The last two years we have focused on the transition period for the cows,” said Bailie, who farms with his father, George, and brother, James. “The cows have been coming in stronger, and we’ve had less problems with fresh cows.”
The new transition building was completed last summer and houses approximately 235 animals. One side has 114 stalls for dry cows and springing heifers. When designing the building, the Bailies decided to use Torenna free stalls, which are made of heavy-duty polymer piping. 
“We love the free stalls,” Bailie said. “You can get a few more stalls in because they are 45 inches as opposed to our metal stalls.”
The other side of the barn is divided into three pens and a calving area. The first pen houses cows that are 14-21 days from calving; the second group is seven to 14 days from calving; and the third pen is zero to seven days from calving and located directly next to the calving area. Cows move from pen to pen in the same group for the three weeks prior to calving. 
Previously, there was only one transition pen consisting of more animals, and there was more sorting and moving. 
“Before, every week we would move some cows in, and they would fight for the first three or four days just to see who the boss was,” Bailie said. 
A lane runs along all three pens, which leads to the calving area. From each pen, one cow can be let out, walk down the lane and led into the calving pen by one person. 
“The idea was that if it’s easy for people to do, it should be easy for the cows as well,” Bailie said. “Any time people get stressed, the cows always seem to get flustered.”
All of the pens in the barn were built so there were no dead ends. There are walkways on both ends of the stalls which ended up sacrificing stall space, but Bailie said the sacrifice is worth it.
“We lost 15 to 20 stalls by doing that, but each pen is a complete circle with no dead ends,” Bailie said. “In our former fresh pen there was a dead end, and it was a lot harder moving cows.”
As the cows calve in, they are moved to a small fresh cow group for a couple days and then moved to the fresh cow pen where they live for three to four weeks. 
An upgrade was made to the facility where fresh cows are milked as well. Previously, the fresh cows walked to the original dairy barn and were milked in stanchions. Half of the original dairy barn was torn down, and a used parlor was installed in the remaining half. The fresh cows go through the parlor and exit through a raceway with a head lock at the end. 
“Each cow can be given her fluids and boluses and any extra attention immediately after milking,” Bailie said. “We can even do surgeries here if we have one.”
An addition to the freestall barn that houses the milking herd allows for an additional 90 cows. There are feed lanes on both sides of the freestall pen and four head locks per cow.
“The purpose behind that was to never have a fresh cow who wanted food to be deprived of it,” Bailie said.
The addition has a hoof trimming area and a small lane with a sort gate as well, which was another space sacrifice that Bailie said was worthwhile.
“There are 50 feet in this barn that may not seem very profitable but to have a sort gate has proved useful,” Bailie said.
The sort gate is used for trimming feet because herd health is conducted in the head locks. Bailie said the addition has boosted cow health and productivity.
“The cows love the stalls,” Bailie said. “Energy corrected, we are about 102 pounds of milk per cow per day. The fresh cows are milked four times a day.”
Heifer replacements on the Bailies’ farm are picked up twice a week and started off at Paramount Calves in Darlington for six months. After that, they are moved to Kansas until they are six to eight months pregnant. 
“The environment in Kansas is better for raising heifers,” Bailie said. “They don’t have the humidity we have here.” 
When the heifers return to Wisconsin, they are moved into the renovated facility that was previously the dry cow barn. The original 40-year-old concrete was all redone and Torenna free stalls were added.
“We gained 20 stalls this way,” Bailie said. “The stalls are 40 inches wide for the heifers.”
The barn can hold three semi loads of heifers that are returned from Kansas. The heifers get mixed in with the cows when they are moved into the pre-fresh system in the new transition barn.
Bailie said he is already seeing benefits of focusing on the transition period. 
“Reproduction is probably too early to say, but the cows seem to be easier bred on the first service with less freshening issues,” Bailie said. “They are healthier animals so they settle easier.”
The Bailies plan to continue to grow internally and are optimistic their newly designed setups will help them achieve that.
“We should be able to grow internally with less sick cows, a lower cull rate and cows getting bred back quicker,” Bailie said.