Operations begin at Rock Prairie Dairy
It was a noisy blur of white and black. The air filled with a musky, bovine smell as octopus-like milking apparatuses dropped from housings in chrome walls that blinked with red and green lights.
Jack Tuls, 69, patriarch of the Tuls milking family, gave a short speech before he moved the business end of a milking pump into place.
"A lot of people have been talking about this dairy. 99 percent of them are for it. Maybe a few of them are against it. But I'm for it. And I'm going to milk the first cow," Tuls said.
With that, operations started at Rock Prairie Dairy.
On Wednesday, more than 500 cows and dozens of workers were settling into their new home at the dairy.
Every other day for the next week, an additional 500 cows will arrive. When it's full, the dairy will be capable of milking 4,600 cows and housing a total of 5,200.
The dairy is located on Highway 14 between Janesville and Delavan two miles west of the Walworth County line—and a long way from Nebraska.
T.J. Tuls, son of Nebraska dairyman Todd Tuls, will be managing the dairy. He made the move to Wisconsin months ago.
The cows are coming from the family's other dairy operations in Nebraska.
T.J. Tuls explained in an email that the cows are being milked before taking off for Wisconsin.
"It's about nine and a half hours from Nebraska, so they are only about an hour and a half off of their normal schedule."
Still, cows are creatures of habit. Once they get used to a routine, they'll wander into the milking parlor at the right time of day with little or no encouragement.
Just like people, change is a little stressful for cows.
"I think that after a week or so they will feel at home," Tuls wrote. "They do produce a little bit less the first few days due to the stress of moving."
Wednesday, the first milking went off in about a half-hour. Todd Tuls said the process took about twice as long as normal because the cows were still a little tense from the move.
But the new milking equipment was working as expected.
A pneumatic pump pulled the milk into a filtering system below the milking parlor and then back up into another room where a well-water refrigeration system flash-cooled the milk to 37 degrees.
When the system's running at full capacity, it can milk 700 cows an hour, and can transfer milk from the cow to the milk truck in about one minute, said Scott Argall, whose Belleville company, Argall Dairy Systems, installed the dairy's milking system.
The new facility, which sits on 160 acres, was scheduled to open in mid-November.
T.J. Tuls wrote that rain early on in the project slowed it down a little, but not much.
"Overall, it is a big project. To build a 4,600 cow dairy in 8.5 months is a pretty big accomplishment," he wrote.
The dairy has about 25 people hired, and more people will be hired as more cows come in, Tuls wrote. He encouraged people to stop in and fill out an application.
As workers in red coveralls and blue aprons finished the first round of milking on Wednesday, Todd Tuls applied an after-milking disinfectant to a cow.
Tuls surveyed the gleaming new milking parlor with intense blue eyes.
"I'm just having fun milking cows right now—it's something I don't get to do that much anymore. I'm just enjoying the moment," he said.
He said he thanks a higher power for his company's success, its growth and the chance to create job opportunities for others.
"Some people don't get to start any dairies in their lifetime. I've been able to start three," Tuls said. "It's a true blessing."
WHAT IT IS
The NFL and the National Dairy Council are partners in the Play 60 effort to encourage kids to be active for 60 minutes a day to combat childhood obesity.
On the state level, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board partners with the Green Bay Packers in the board's Fuel Up to Play 60 promotion, which encourages children to eat low-fat dairy products, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
One other local school won a prize in this year's contest. Northside Intermediate School of Milton was a runner-up and won a $100 NFL Shop gift card.