BUILDING A STATE-OF-THE-ART FACILITY to milk and house 2,500 Holsteins calls for plenty of in-depth planning and research.

For dairyman John Avila, Moses Lake, Wash., that has included annual shopping trips to World Ag Expo to size up his options for equipping his new operation in Washington State’s Columbia Basin.

As a result when the dairy begins operation in March, it will feature milking and manure-handling systems, along with a free-stall barn, that he bought based in large part on the information and advice he gathered at the annual February event in Tulare, Calif. by talking to exhibitors and other dairymen.

Avila has attended just about every World Ag Expo for nearly two decades.

“When building a new dairy, being able to look at the range of equipment made by a variety of companies really helps,” he says. “I don’t know how I would have learned about all the different choices in dairy systems without attending World Ag Expo.

“You can go from one booth to the next to get ideas and learn about the features of the different products. I’m amazed at how many times, I’ve thought a certain type of equipment would work for us and then I go to the show and find something that will work even better. This show is the easiest way I know of to get the information I need.”

Avila combined his trips to the World Ag Expo with visits to dairies in the area to gain additional insight into the many equipment alternatives from other milk producers. He also traveled to Minnesota, Oregon and South Dakota to gather information from fellow dairymen.

“I wanted to make sure that the equipment I planned to buy would work the way I wanted it to,” Avila says.

Equipment choices

He began using World Ag Expo to research and evaluate options for equipping the new dairy five years ago when he and his son, Edward, who had recently graduated from college, teamed up to expand the family’s operation. At the time, Avila was milking about 1,400 cows in a parallel double-14 parlor and housing them in a free-stall barn.

However, that location is within a few miles of Moses Lake, where commercial and residential development continues to inch closer and closer to the farm. So rather than expand there, the Avilas decided to build a new, larger facility about 20 miles farther away. They are expanding their herd by buying heifers and cows locally.

The manufacturers of the equipment he bought at the Expo for the new dairy helped him in designing the facilities to meet his needs, he reports. A local engineer designed the buildings and a local contractor handled construction of the barns.

Avila will be milking cows twice a day in a DeLaval 72-stall Rota-Tech rotary milking parlor, which he bought at World Ag Expo. The special show package included milking machines, milk tanks, cooling systems and water heaters. Based on advice of milk producers who use a similar system, the single entry lane to the parlor is angled 15-degrees rather than facing the platform straight-on. “This angled entrance is more cow-friendly,” Avila says. “It makes it easier for them to walk onto the moving platform.”

He also bought an Aerotech ventilation system at World Ag Expo for the new cross-ventilated free stall barn. Although more common in the upper Midwest, it may be the first such type of barn in his area, Avila notes.

“It offers a much more controlled environment than a conventional free-stall barn,” he says. “In the summer, computer-operated fans on one side of the barn pull air, which has been cooled by cooling pads on the other side, across the barn. In the winter, the cooling pads are turned off and the fans operate as needed to keep the barn properly ventilated.”

Avila’s visits to the Dairy Pavilion also influenced his decision to buy manure separation equipment, made by Dairitech, for the new dairy. “I saw it at the show and visited one of the exhibitor’s customers in Oregon to see for myself how it worked,” Avila says.

Exchanging ideas

The ability to talk with other milk producers that he meets in the aisles of the Dairy Pavilion is another big advantage of attending World Ag Expo, he notes.

“I enjoy mingling with other dairymen and talking with them about the types of equipment and practices they use,” Avila says.

“I learn as much from them as I do from the exhibitors. Dairymen will tell you why they like one piece of equipment or system over another and then you can use this information to make up your own mind.”

In addition to his son, he tours the show with a brother and brother-in-law who farm in the Tulare area and his five nephews. Although Avila checks out some of the tractor and implement displays, he spends most of two or three days at the show exploring the Dairy Pavilion. “I start at one end and go from one row of booths to the next until I’ve covered everything,” he says.

He’ll be back for the 2009 World Ag Expo. This time he’ll have his eyes on foot baths, ID systems and other touches to complete the new dairy. “Every year, I look forward to attending it and seeing all the newest products and equipment.”

Washington dairy business began in California

JOHN AVILA’S FAMILY emigrated from Portugal to the eastern Los Angeles area when he was 15 years old. Working at a dairy while in high school sparked his interest in the dairy business.

Avila operated his own dairy for six years on leased land near Hanford in California’s Central Valley until 1990. That’s when more attractive land prices prompted his move to Moses Lake in central Washington, where he bought his current dairy farm.

“The feed prices here are lower than in California,” he reports. He grows about 600 acres each of pivot-irrigated alfalfa for hay and corn for silage and usually buys some extra hay locally.

“Annual rainfall in this high desert area is similar to that of the Central Valley in California, but the winter temperatures are colder,” Avila says.

Manure handling practices are another difference between the two areas. When he was in California, the liquid manure was piped to fields for flood irrigation and the solids were spread. In the rolling terrain around Moses Lake area, the liquids are either injected or applied with sprinklers on his corn ground. He dries the solids for bedding and spreads the rest on his cropland.

“There are about three dozen or so dairies in the county,” Avila says. “That includes several milk producers who have moved here from the western part of the state where land development was encroaching on their farms.”