Milking and cleanup activity goes on around the clock at Oak Orchard Dairy in western New York. A video camera could capture every second of it — 2.592 million seconds each month, assuming a 30-day month — but, in reality, only about 162,000 of those seconds are actually recorded. 

Those 162,000 seconds are all that's needed, really, to make the cameras a wise investment. Co-owner Curt Norton monitors each of the three full-time milkers and two part-time milkers once a month. Each gets taped throughout a nine-hour work shift. Taping is random, so the milkers don't know when they will be recorded. And, the camera is one of those models that doesn't have a red light come on when recording.

Norton goes over each tape, and then shares the results with everyone at a monthly milkers' meeting. By using the tapes on a regular basis to coach and encourage milkers, he uses the video cameras effectively. 

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Let workers know how it is being used
At Oak Orchard Dairy, only one milker works in the double-20 parlor at any given time, which requires a high degree of efficiency. Accordingly, the milkers must follow a prescribed milking protocol. For instance, after the milkers wipe a cow's teats with a single-service towel, they are to hold onto the towel — and not place it into their pouch — until they turn to move toward the next cow. That way, the milkers can save half a second per stall compared to depositing the towels in their pouches immediately upon wiping. Over the course of a milking shift, that one improvement can add up to 15 to 20 minutes, Norton says.

Consistency is the key.

The video camera is just one more way to keep the milkers honest — not only to Norton, but to each other. At Oak Orchard Dairy, the milkers see themselves as being on the same team, and no one wants to let the others down. With that kind of peer pressure in place, the video camera is seen as a positive development.   

Use it regularly
The camera "isn't there to catch someone doing something wrong — it is there for training," Norton says. In seven years, it hasn't ever been used to fire someone, he adds.

Oak Orchard Dairy is using the video camera for the right reasons — as a training tool, not as an intimidation tool, says Dave Luzader, solutions manager for Germania Dairy Automation, a division of DeLaval.

But no matter how altruistic the purpose, in order to accomplish any good with the camera, you must use it on a regular basis. Otherwise, the workers will catch on and their behavior won't change. 

Dave Reid, director of milk harvest science and technology for Bou-Matic, can sometimes be a critic of the cameras. Here are three reasons why:

  • Time. It takes a lot of time to watch a milking or even parts of it, Reid says. Often, a farm will find that it is just too time-consuming and stop taping altogether. But, Norton seems to have found a happy medium. He spends about one and one-half hour per month reviewing the tapes, which isn't excessive. Rather than reviewing an entire milking, he selects certain times off the tape and then fast-forwards through the rest.  
  • Picture quality. Definition in some areas of the parlor may be poor. The camera may pick up detailed movement at the front of the parlor, but fail to pick up enough detail at the farthest stalls. The milkers will soon realize they can get away with things at the back of the parlor that they couldn't get away with at the front. As an alternative, Reid suggests using a high-quality, hand-held cam that will allow you to get closer to the action than a wall-mounted version could. 
  • The presence of good alternative measures. Computer software programs, like Dairy Comp 305, can shed light on milker performance. For instance, the amount of milk harvested in the first two minutes of unit attachment is a good measure of how well the milkers prep the cows and stimulate letdown. Norton, for his part, uses a couple of software programs to supplement the videotapes.  

Reid acknowledges that the cameras can be a good training tool if used properly.

By taping its milkers on a frequent basis, and then using the tapes for positive training purposes, Oak Orchard Dairy has made a commitment that has paid off.