Invest in parlor management

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After just 90 days, John Vrieze remains confident that hiring a parlor manger was the right decision.

“Parlor management used to be haphazard at best,” explains Vrieze, co-owner of Baldwin Dairy and Emerald Dairy in Wisconsin. You focus on it until something else demands your attention. Then, when things go downhill, you focus on it again.

To achieve high-quality milk on a consistent basis, you need someone on staff who is dedicated to the task. For Baldwin and Emerald Dairies, that someone is milk-quality manager Mario Solis. In the 90 days that Solis has been overseeing operations for three parlors on the three dairies, somatic cell count has dropped from an average of 350,000 to 250,000. With quality premiums, that has been more than enough to pay for his salary, says Vrieze.

While not every dairy will see this type of dramatic improvement, having someone be responsible for achieving milk-quality goals — day in and day out — can make a difference. Here are four reasons why you should invest in a parlor manager.

1. Acts as coach

The No. 1 thing that a parlor manager does is coach the parlor team, explains David Reid, director of milk harvest science and technology for Bou-Matic. Just as a football coach watches how his players perform, critiques them and then motivates them to do their best, the parlor manager does the same thing for milkers.

In addition, the parlor manager makes sure that routine equipment maintenance gets done on time, monitors milking system performance and keeps an eye on parlor throughput and cow flow. He also monitors cow health through milk production, conductivity readings, and screenings for clinical mastitis. When a problem arises, he works with employees and the owner to find solutions.

At Venice View Dairy in Venice Center, N.Y., parlor manager Scott McNabb has yet another role added to his job description. All of the employees who milk cows in the double-52 parlor are from Guatemala. That means Scott also serves as their translator and aids them in running off-farm errands, such as going to the doctor or taking their car to a mechanic.

“We try to get personal with the guys, because they’re not just farm hands — they are people,” says McNabb. They are a part of the team, and success at harvesting high-quality milk is in their hands.

2. Frees up your time

“I’m not bilingual,” says Todd Doornink, of Jon-De Farms, Baldwin, Wis. “We have parlor procedures that work,” but communication problems sometimes made things more difficult and time-consuming. Now, with a bilingual parlor manager on staff, he has more time to focus on the business side of things. And the heifer enterprise now gets the attention it deserves, too.

Vrieze agrees. Having a parlor manager has freed up his time. He now spends more time walking pens of cows, checking fresh cows, and analyzing farm records.

After all, the general manager or dairy owner can’t do everything, stresses Reid. That point was illustrated three years ago on a 600-cow dairy in Minnesota. The manager was frustrated by the number of mastitis cases he had to deal with, and also felt he wasn’t spending enough time on the nutrition side of things. After hiring a parlor manager to focus on milk quality, he was able to focus on nutrition. Milk production increased by 7 pounds per cow per day. The extra milk production helped him cash flow an expansion that doubled herd size to 1,200 cows.  

3. Saves money

Having a parlor manager on staff has helped reduce maintenance cost at Venice View Dairy. “With Scott doing our maintenance, we have high-quality maintenance done on time for less cost,” says Neil Rejman, partner in the 2,600-cow dairy.

In Pixley, Calif., Tony Salvador serves as parlor manager for three dairies milking a total of 8,200 cows. Possessing a strong background in equipment maintenance, Salvador focuses on preventative maintenance. That focus keeps the milking equipment in good condition, which saves money and prevents breakdowns. Part of Salvador’s maintenance program includes cleaning the exterior of all of the milking equipment. “Because we take care of the equipment, we have an eight-year-old parlor that looks like a two-year-old parlor” and runs just as well, he says.

In addition to saving on the equipment side, it can make a difference in your labor bill, too. Take, for example, a typical Midwestern dairy with two people working in a double-12 parlor. One of those two persons is “severely underemployed,” explains Doug Reineman, milking systems specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. So, if you give one of those people the responsibility for some of the things a parlor manager would do, such as equipment maintenance, or monitoring milk quality they are no longer underemployed.

“Working smarter as opposed to working harder is another way to affect your bottom-line,” says Reineman. After all, management generally has a higher rate of return than manual labor.

4. Makes money

As with anything, you have to ask, "Will it make me money?" In the case of parlor management, the answer is "yes."

While smaller dairies may feel they are too small to afford a full-time parlor manager, they can still give a lead milker responsibility to carry out some of those duties. Or, they can join with a couple of neighboring dairies to hire a parlor manager that would oversee all three dairies.

But, regardless of the circumstances, "somebody has to be responsible for milk quality,” says Doornink. “If no one has the responsibility, then it won’t get done and you won’t see the results you want.”

At Vrieze’s three dairies in Wisconsin, hiring a parlor manager has produced many positive results:

  • A lower somatic cell count.
  • Earlier detection of clinical mastitis cases.
  • Fewer milking cows in the hospital pen, due to earlier evaluation and treatment.

  Before hiring a parlor manager, Vrieze's dairies averaged 2 percent to 2.5 percent of the milking herd in the sick pen. Now, they are close to reaching their target of 1.5 percent.

Reid, likewise, has noticed much improvement among the dairies that have appointed parlor managers. Those improvements include improved milk quality, more milk per cow, and fewer clinical cases of mastitis. Just think about it: The average cost per episode of clinical mastitis is $150 to $250. If you can reduce your incidence of mastitis by five cases per week, that’s a savings of  $750 to $1,250 per week.

Investing in parlor management — whether by hiring a person to focus on it, or using a lead milker to help accomplish your goals — pays. Otherwise, you end up continually putting out fires. To truly manage and achieve your milk-quality goals, you have to get ahead of those fires. Investing in parlor management is one way to do that.

Got Spanish-speaking milkers?

If the employees who milk cows on your dairy don’t speak English, then make sure your parlor manager does.

Producers who have hired a bilingual parlor manager, or have helped their parlor manager get training to speak Spanish, say the investment is worth it. This is the only way you will know that your Spanish-speaking employees understand the how and the why for each step they take in the parlor.

Automation can make parlor management easier

At Grand View dairy in Phoenix, Ariz. brothers Larry and Nick Vanderwey have invested in DeLaval automated systems that help maximize cow throughput, achieve high milk quality and production and minimize the chance for human error.

   “We designed the parlors using basic business principles that a factory would use,” explains Larry Vanderwey who is in charge of the animal side of the dairy. While employees are a key part of harvesting high quality milk in their two double 30 parlors, sort gates, cow transponders, automatic takeoffs and computerized parlor controls allow the employees to focus their attention on proper cow prep and unit attachment in the parlor. The result is a somatic cell count that stays between 140,000 to 190,000 all year. And computerized systems generate reports that allow Larry to know at a glance how the parlor and employees perform each day. That allows him to spend more time with the cows. After all, says Larry, it’s good quality cow-care that really pays.



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