Tips for upgrading your old dairy parlour – Farmers Weekly

Upgrading parlours has recently grown in popularity, with many farmers opting to improve those built in the 1980s and 1990s rather than replacing them completely.

It’s not surprising given the cost savings that can be made, however, any work needs to fit around milking times.

Steven Finney, dairy engineer at Jace Supplies, talks through what to consider when completing an upgrade.

See also: How to make sure your parlour is running properly

1. Weigh up the disruption

Depending on how much work is required, upgrades could take place between milkings, but installation can be quicker – and disruption to the milking regime limited – by hiring a milking bale.

Make sure it is a modern bale; two 16-point bales can milk 160 to 200 cows an hour. It’s also important to set it up correctly to prevent damage to the cows – and choose a bale that feeds the cows, as that helps to keep them more settled.

2. Decide the goal

Are you looking to increase feed intakes or yields, improve cow flow, or reduce somatic cell counts and labour?

In an ideal world all the cows would be milked in half an hour – that’s not realistic, but upgrades to the routine can significantly reduce milking time and labour.

3. Research

Get in touch with other farmers who have similar goals or have undertaken a comparable upgrade, to understand how it works in practice.

4. Consider the milking routine

A simple change to the pre-milking routine can make a big difference to herd health without large investment. It takes 90 seconds for a cow to enter full milk flow, so waiting for that time to apply the cluster, after wiping the teat, can prevent overmilking and teat damage.

Teat brushes can also encourage flow, but ensure the teats are dry before applying the cluster to prevent damage.

One benefit of shortening milking time is cows aren’t standing in the collecting area for as long, meaning they could be eating or drinking, and producing more milk in this time.

5. Allow for an adjustment period

This varies from farm to farm – relaxed cows usually adapt to upgrades more quickly.

In the first month expect an increase in somatic cell count, particularly if it is a big upgrade and the cows aren’t used to being milked quicker – but this should settle after a month.

6. Managing staff

Staff will always have an impact on the milking process, so they need to be well trained and motivated.

Get the installation engineers to offer training on the new parlour as it can save time if something breaks down.

Consider printing off figures relating to milk letdown and how many units were stopped, for example, if a cow kicks off the cluster or staff remove a slow cow to save time.

Make it a bit of a competition to get the best figures, with the winner receiving a bonus.

Installing a camera in the parlour can also ensure no corners are cut in a rush to get home.

Case study: Bowbridge Farm

Rob Braithwaite halved milking times, improved herd health and has expanded since upgrading his parlour at Bowbridge Farm, near Asby, Cumbria, last year.

Farm facts

  • 111ha – of which 10ha is rented
  • 200 pedigree Holstein cows
  • 11,000 litres average a cow a year
  • Arla contract
  • All artificial insemination
  • 30% replacement rate
  • Year-round calving
  • 14/28 Dairymaster parlour
  • Cows are housed year-round and fed on a total mixed ration of: 5kg Trafford Gold, 5.5kg concentrate blend, 1kg molasses, 100g minerals, 50g acid buffer and 150g butterfat extra
  • Three full-time employees and one self-employed relief worker

The previous system – installed in 2003 – was labour intensive with glass jars and no automatic cluster removers (ACR), staff had no real way of knowing when the cow was milked out – leading to overmilking of heifers and teat damage.

Performance recording

So, when Mr Braithwaite decided to increase the herd, changes needed to be made.

“In our old parlour, milking 120 cows was fine, but as we took on some neighbouring ground, I wanted to milk more cows – which meant the parlour wasn’t quite up to it,” says Mr Braithwaite, who had expanded to milking 170 cows in the old parlour. 

With a pedigree Holstein herd, he also wanted to accurately measure and increase yields – something which was more difficult with the glass jar system.

With help from Dairymaster, he installed a direct line, milk meters and ACRs over the course of four days. This was fitted around twice-daily milkings.

The upgrade cost £50,000, which Mr Braithwaite hopes will pay for itself in eight to 10 years.

Benefits and challenges

The cows adapted well and there was no loss of yield while the upgrade was taking place, and milking time has halved from four hours to two.

One teething problem was how long the ACRs took to release from the teats. “We had it set to one second between dropping the unit and pulling it back, but it was pulling the teats too much, so we altered it to three seconds and that’s spot on.”

Mr Braithwaite also selected a lighter claw and unit which puts less weight on the udder. He has adjusted the unit to leave more milk on the animals, solving the problem of overmilking – which he hopes will improve whole herd health. Bactoscan has also reduced.

“The washing out routine is better because the glass jars weren’t easy to clean; now bactoscans have dropped from 25,000/ml to 16,000.”

Strains on labour have also eased, as the new system only requires one person, rather than two. And Mr Braithwaite’s goal of milking more cows has been achieved – having taken on an extra 30 head.

Since the upgrade, annual yields have increased, by 200 litres a cow, to average 11,000 litres.

Mr Braithwaite now plans to extend his cubicle shed to house more cows. “We also have the ability to add more units in the parlour if we want,” he says.

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