The double-16 milking parlor at Fieber Dairy was built in 1996. Last fall, as part of their expansion project, the parlor was completely overhauled and expanded to a double-20 at the dairy near Goodwin, South Dakota.
The double-16 milking parlor at Fieber Dairy was built in 1996. Last fall, as part of their expansion project, the parlor was completely overhauled and expanded to a double-20 at the dairy near Goodwin, South Dakota. PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON
GOODWIN, S.D. – Creating opportunities for the next generation is a goal for many dairy farmers. The Fieber family, who are milking 1,100 head, recently took a big step toward achieving this goal.
“Dad and Mom moved here from Madison, Minnesota, in 1956,” said Mike Fieber. “At first, they just had hogs and beef cattle, but a county extension agent convinced them to get some dairy cows so that they could have a steady income from milk checks.”
 Don and Orma Fieber got into dairy farming by purchasing a dozen cows that they milked in a tie-stall barn. The Fieber family and its dairy operation both grew over the years. Don and Orma would eventually have 11 children.
Don passed away in 2015. Orma, who now has 104 great-grandchildren, continues to live on the farm and hone her painting skills.
Four of Don and Orma’s sons are involved with Fieber Dairy. Mike is the general manager, while Tom is the dairy’s herdsman. Pete and Rick handle the cropping side of the operation and are in charge of feeding. Fieber Dairy farms some 2,300 acres. 
For the Fiebers, creating opportunities for the next generation meant expanding their facilities. Last fall, they put the finishing touches on two freestall barns that will enable them to grow their herd from 750 to 1,200 head. 
The smaller of the new barns measures 428-feet-by-104-feet, has four rows of free stalls and can house 372 head. The larger barn measures 452-feet-by-120-feet, has 483 free stalls, a veterinary supply room and six maternity pens. Both barns feature side curtains and an open ridge for natural ventilation.
“We began the planning process two-and-a-half years ago,” Mike said. “The original idea was to build one large cross-ventilated facility. But then we got to thinking that our cows were averaging 90 to 95 pounds of milk per head per day, so why not keep using our current design? We did our research by visiting other dairy farms. In the end, we saved over $2 million in construction costs by building two smaller barns that have natural ventilation.”
The Fiebers’ choice for bedding the free stalls was a decision that was informed by many years of experience.
“We have used chopped crop residue for bedding in our free stalls, and we have used sand,” he said. “Sand is good, but it’s a pain to handle. It’s also tough on equipment.”
Some years ago, Fieber Dairy began to bed their stalls with manure solids. 
“We were buying manure solids from some neighboring dairy farms,” Tom said. “You can’t beat manure solids for cow comfort. The cows really like manure solids bedding, and their (somatic cell count) has remained low.”
It should come as no surprise that the new facilities at Fieber Dairy include a flume system, Mike said, that carries manure to a solids separator.
“We now make our own bedding,” he said. “And we can make as much of it as we want.”
Another change at Fieber Dairy had to do with the milking parlor.
“Our milking parlor was a double-16 that was built in 1996,” he said. “After all those years, its metal parts were completely worn out. Last fall, as part of our expansion project, the milking parlor was totally reconstructed and expanded to a double-20. The new freestall barn and the upgraded parlor have enabled us to milk more cows with the same amount of labor.”
For the past 15 years, Fieber Dairy has been crossbreeding their Holstein cows with Jersey sires, creating what Tom calls HoJo cattle. This was tweaked two years ago when they began to introduce Brown Swiss genetics into the rotation.
“We call the three-way crossbreds a BoHoJo,” he said. “Some of the first three-way heifers have calved, and we like what we see so far. They are giving anywhere from 85 to 90 pounds of milk per day. Our goal with our three-way crossbreeding program is to get better feet and legs, higher components, calving ease and all of the advantages that come with heterosis.” 
Construction delays and material shortages resulted in some unplanned changes to the Fiebers’ new facilities, according to Mike.
“We had planned on building them out of wood,” he said. “But lumber became scarce, and its price began to skyrocket, so we switched to a steel structure. That actually turned out to be a plus. The steel version of our barns is much more open because it has fewer columns.”
The calving pens in the new barn have proven to be a bonus. Thanks to an alley that is located in front of them, the pens can be bedded with a tractor and a bale processor. The pen’s gates, Tom said, are custom designed; each one has its own built-in head gate.   
“Before we built the new barns, we would calve our cattle in some of our older barns,” he said. “This meant loading up the fresh animals and hauling them back to the freestall barn. Now, we keep the close-up animals in a freestall pen located right across from the calving pens. When we see that a cow is going into labor, all we have to do is walk her over to the calving pens. After she has given birth, it’s just a short walk to the general population free stalls.”
The new facilities were put to the test when a recent cold snap plunged the mercury to 20 degrees below zero and Mike said things worked as they should.
“Nothing froze inside the barns even though they aren’t yet fully populated,” he said. “We are very pleased with how the barns have been working. There isn’t anything that we would change.”
The freestall barns have enabled the Fiebers to rearrange the way they house some of the other animals.
“We were housing some of our cows in barns that were built in the 1950s,” Mike said. “The new freestall barns have helped make our operation more efficient. They also freed up some space where we can keep our calves during cold weather.”
Additional changes are being considered at Fieber Dairy.
“We might build a new heifer barn or a calf (barn) next year,” Mike said. “Our goal is to continue to create opportunities for the next generation.”