SOUTH BELOIT, Ill. – Planning for the future of the family as well as the dairy industry is crucial to brothers Don and Ken Hildebrandt and their families.

That’s exactly what they had in mind when they installed a 40-cow rotary milking parlor in March 2017 in their barn on State Line Road near South Beloit.

“This is what worked for our family,” said Amy Hildebrandt, Ken Hildebrandt’s wife.

The family milks 800 cows three times each day. They decided to update milking facilities as more of their kids came back to the farm to live and work. There are eight Hildebrandt family members working full-time on the farm along with 14 additional full- and part-time employees. Every family member has a certain role or job title.

The rotary parlor was installed by The Scharine Group; it’s the only rotary parlor in the state of Illinois, according to the family. It features several herd-management tools such as a complete cow-identification system that automatically identifies each cow as she walks onto the rotary. It records everything about her – from how much and how fast she milks each time to how much she eats and drinks, as well as her personal activity level. It also detects her heats.

A post-dipping robot and teat scrubber are included in the parlor. It’s among the latest technology in the rotary-parlor industry, said Blake Scharine, co-owner of The Scharine Group. The technology completely eliminates the need for one person, making cow management more efficient, he said.

A DeLaval touch screen with real-time milking warnings informs workers when a milker has been kicked off or when there is a blocked air bleed.

“This was a four-year project between getting all the permits, planning everything out for the future and doing the construction,” Amy Hildebrandt said.

Rotary parlors are cow-friendly, Scharine said. There is no feed or water on them, but the cows relax in the quiet and chew their cud. The motion of it can be calming.

“The cows fight to get on the rotary and that’s not typical with other parlors,” he said. “They like the calm movements and they don’t dance around as much.”

Each cow on the farm produces an average of 72 pounds of milk, or 8 gallons, per day. That’s a farm total of 56,000 pounds of milk, or 6,500 gallons, per day. It takes about 10 minutes for the rotary to make one turn around; each cow is milked for about four minutes. The parlor allows 200 cows to be milked per hour.

Don and Ken Hildebrandt’s parents began milking cows on the farm in 1981. Initially they milked 150 cows, but then increased to 200, then 400. And now the farm is poised for the future at 800 rotary-enjoying cows.

Mary Hookham is a freelance agricultural journalist and photographer from Janesville, Wisconsin. She grew up near Footville on a 140-acre beef and chicken farm and went to high school in Orfordville. She graduated from University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor of arts degree in print journalism and a minor in English for writers.