Editor’s note: This case study first appeared in E2’s Clean Jobs Colorado 2017.
Will McConnell is a passionate dairy farmer. After all, it’s in his blood.
McConnell’s grandfather was the state dairy extension specialist in Tennessee, and lost the dairy farm he owned with a partner, during the Great Depression.
After his parents moved the family from Tennessee west to Colorado, McConnell enrolled in Colorado State University’s (CSU’s) agriculture school, working part time at the university’s dairy.
McConnell took a break from college in Fort Collins to serve in the U.S. Navy, returning after his service to finish a degree in animal science. Upon graduation, McConnell worked in Canyon City, Colo., near the banks of the Arkansas River, where he managed the dairy at the local prison.
During his six early years at the prison’s diary, McConnell and his wife, Joelyn, purchased a bankrupt property in 1989. McConnell’s family has been in business on the property—called Rainbow Park Dairy—ever since. And recently, they’ve turned to energy efficiency and solar energy to reduce the farm’s electricity and heating costs.
In addition to improving the barn’s insulation, the biggest savings were realized by adding motors with variable speeds to the dairy operation’s vacuum and milk pumps. Whereas previously pumps were switched on and off to manage milk flow, they now run continuously. The milk is also now cooled more efficiently— with same energy output.
The freshly pumped milk arrives at a holding tank at 50 degrees, saving cooling costs in the milk tank. Previously, milk arrived at 70 degrees. Upgrades like these were done with support from the Colorado Agricultural Energy Efficiency Program, managed by the Colorado Energy Office.
Other energy-saving projects are on their to-do list, including a heat-recovery system to take heat from the cooling milk and use it to warm water; and to replace the dairy farm’s outdated washing machines with new models that have extra high-speed spin cycles, which cut down on drying costs.
Rainbow Park Dairy hopes cost-sharing with its milk co-op, Dairies Farmers of America, and financing via Colorado’s Commercial PACE program, could help ensure these cost- and energy-saving projects are completed.
The dairy farm could potentially benefit from a large solar panel installation, too. McConnell said his son, Rob, who began managing a dairy herd on the farm at 24 years old, eagerly antic- ipates this project. In the meantime, the dairy farm uses a few small solar panels to charge vehicle batteries and to pump fuel.
The McConnell family’s energy-efficient dairy farm now employs eight full-time workers, in- cluding one who has been with the farm for 26 years, and two part-time high-school students.
Together they manage a growing the herd, delivering and caring for new calves. Joelyn McConnell is the calf specialist; the farm has not lost a newborn calf in nearly four years.
McConnell started operations with just eight cows in 1989. Today, the dairy farm runs a herd of 1200 heifers, 600 mature, and milking 500 of them three times a day. Rob McConnell owns almost about one-third of the herd. Even his young children are now helping at the dairy with their grandmother feeding and caring for the young calves.
With increased energy efficiency investments, the potential for cost-saving renewable energy projects, and multiple generations now working on the farm, the future looks bright for Rainbow Park Dairy.