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Meadow Star Dairy prepares for arrival of 8,500 dairy cows

PENNOCK, Minn. - This past winter - when construction plans were simply on paper - it was determined that the first cow would be milked Oct. 26 at the Meadow Star Dairy near Pennock.

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Lyle Grimm, construction manager for the Meadow Star Dairy project near Pennock, Minn., stands in the free-stall barn. Covering about 20 acres, the barn will house all 8,500 animals on the farm Carolyn Lange (Forum News Service

PENNOCK, Minn. - This past winter - when construction plans were simply on paper - it was determined that the first cow would be milked Oct. 26 at the Meadow Star Dairy near Pennock.

In the meantime, crews had to transform a 160-acre farm field into a massive livestock operation with buildings that cover 20 acres--big enough to house 8,500 animals--a rotary milking parlour that allows 106 cows to be milked at once, three houses for on-site employees, feed storage to house tons of silage and hay, and lagoons that can hold 90 million gallons of liquid manure and feed runoff.
Mission accomplished.
Construction began March 9, and despite a wet spring that slowed down the early construction phase, crews took advantage of a dry fall.
"We're just busy wrapping up all the little details on the construction project here," said Lyle Grimm, construction manager at Meadow Star.
"We're busy cleaning, getting everything prepped and ready for the cows, (like) miscellaneous supplies and bedding and feed and making sure everything's going to work good for the cows to come in."
The dairy, which will be the largest in Kandiyohi County, is owned and operated by Riverview LLP.
Based in Morris, Riverview has another large dairy operation, called East Dublin Dairy, located near Murdock and has other livestock facilities in New Mexico, Nebraska and South Dakota.
Three hundred cows will be delivered Monday to Meadow Star.
By the end of the week there will be 3,000 animals.
Eventually, the farm will house a total of 8,500 animals, including about 7,000 cows that will be milked twice a day.
The cows will generate eight semi-tankers of milk daily that will be transported to the First District Association processing facility in Litchfield.
The remaining 1,500 animals will be "dry" cows that do not produce milk prior to having babies. The day-old calves will be taken to another Riverview farm to be raised.
Crews also have been busy stocking the farm with enough fodder to feed the large herd for a year.
The supply includes about 35 tons of corn silage covered with a plastic tarp weighted down with sidewall tires, tons of hay and straw, dry distillers grain, soy meal, gluten, ground corn and a variety of minerals combined in a fine-tuned ration recipe.
Three large lagoons and one small one are designed to hold liquid manure and runoff from the feed storage units.
The design includes a two-foot, compacted clay liner and heavy synthetic cover on the large lagoons and a straw cover on the small one. The lagoons will be emptied once a year with the liquid applied to area fields.
Dry manure solids that are removed daily from the barn will be compressed, dried, fluffed and used as bedding for the cows.
The property includes a free-stall barn that's 1,400 feet long and 608 feet wide.
On one side of the barn, the cows can lie down on a rubber mat covered with two inches of dry manure solids and on the other side there are feed bunks.
More than 1,000 low-energy LED light fixtures, multiple fans and curtains on the long south wall will help maintain airflow and temperature, Grimm said.
Twice a day, cows will be herded to the milking parlour where one person will prep the cow's udder, a second person will wipe the udder and a third will put the milking unit on the cow, which will be slowly ferried around on the carousel.
By the time the cow reaches the end of the ride, a fourth person takes off the milker and sprays the udder and the cow returns to its pen, which has been cleaned and rebedded during her absence.
The process requires the mechanical system to work flawlessly, and "everything we built is running the way it's supposed to, down to every gate swings the right direction and every door opens the right way," Grimm said.
Because cows will be milked on the day they arrive at the farm, Grimm said it's important that there aren't any "hiccups" in the system.
"Our biggest focus here is having happy, content cows," said, who will have the honor of putting the milking machine on the first cow that is milked in the new parlour. "Cows that are content and comfortable produce more milk."
Contractors who worked on the project will celebrate its completion Friday with a meal served on site.
Grimm said the company used as many local vendors as possible.
"The surrounding area, the neighbors, the people in the community, the communities around the area and the businesses are really important to us," he said.
In an effort to be a good neighbor, Grimm said questions, concerns and tour groups are welcome at the dairy.
"We're always looking forward to building relationships with people in the area," he said.
And open house is expected to be held at Meadow Star in June.

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