More cows and larger facilities demand extra skid-steer loaders

An Illinois dairy farm adds dependable Bobcat skid-steer loaders as herd size increases. Attachments enable farmers to complete much of their own construction and maintenance projects.

From a new beginning in 1992 and for the following 20 years, the Varel Dairy of Bartelso, Ill., has slowly and steadily increased the size of its Holstein dairy herd. More cows resulted in new, larger facilities, more employees and, to make everyone’s work go faster and easier, more skid-steer loaders as well.

“As we have been growing we have been adding loaders,” says Eric Varel, who operates the farm with his brothers Jason and Jesse. “Whenever we find a need for another machine, and it works out financially, we buy one.”

Today the dairy has four Bobcat® loaders — a new S850, a pair of S250s and an older 873, all purchased from Bobcat of St. Louis in Fairview Heights, Ill.

“We could probably get by with one less machine,” says Varel, “but then we would have a situation where two employees need to use the same loader at the same time. One has to wait. We would rather have an additional machine so work flows smoothly and people are not standing around waiting. Having an extra loader makes us more efficient.”

At one time the brothers had a single loader and believed it could have been sufficient if the machine was operated 24 hours a day. That is, if the chores could have been spaced out over the entire day.

“Things just don’t work that way,” Varel says. “Once we added a second machine, it quickly became busy all the time. So we purchased a third one in order to keep our operation productively moving forward. We added the fourth Bobcat loader so we would have one available when we needed it.

“We previously cleaned out our straw-packed barn with a tractor. It took about a week. A neighbor with a Bobcat loader and bucket came and did the job in about a day. That’s when we decided to purchase our first Bobcat machine.”


The dairy was started by their grandfather Bill and passed on to their father Jim. In 1985 – 1986, the family took the government buyout under the Food Security Act of 1985 and terminated milk production.

“We raised steer for six years,” Varel recalls. “It wasn’t very profitable so we went back into dairy farming in 1992. We started with 200 cows, after milking 60 when we left the business. The larger herd size required a new milking parlor and four new barns. This was a large project to undertake at the time. The first couple of years were tough, but we survived and kept growing, eventually reaching 600 cows and adding another barn.”

They currently milk 950 cows three times a day in their 6-year-old double-24 parallel parlor. The cows are housed in seven barns. The brothers, who purchased the farm from their parents in 2005, also raise corn for silage on 550 acres. The rest of the feed is purchased.

In addition to typical dairy farm chores — moving feed and cleaning barns — the brothers continue to find projects that fit their Bobcat loaders and attachments that include an angle broom, pallet forks, heavy material and snow buckets, hydraulic breaker, a backhoe and an auger.

“We do a lot of the building ourselves,” Varel says. “Our loaders have been very instrumental in our construction projects. With all the plumbing running through and between our barns, the backhoe has been a big help whenever we have to fix a leak. There is always work for the loaders.”

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