In 1996, well-known California dairy producer John Fiscalini set out to design a “smart barn” that would alert him and his managers to equipment problems in the milking parlor. But the sensing equipment was relatively primitive compared to today’s standards. Fiscalini’s dream had to be postponed a while, but now it appears the technology is finally ready for ventures such as these.

For example, Kreider Farms in Manheim, Pa., is doing all sorts of things with its 54-stall rotary parlor and milk house that it couldn’t have done as recently as a year ago. And, it will be able to do even more a year from now.

New technology will make a valuable contribution by allowing producers to anticipate and head off many of the mechanical problems that plague parlors today. Here are some examples from Kreider Farms.

  • Most of the electric motors in the parlor are monitored. If amperage or electrical current for a particular motor begins to spike, it’s a sign that the motor is about to give out. That information is sent to a computer and an alarm sounded – thanks to a new generation of “intelligent” motor-starter devices that were only available on a limited basis a year ago. 
  • Many of the settings can be controlled from a touch screen. For example, if a producer wants to change the plate cooler setting from 34 degrees to 35 degrees, he simply types in the new number. The plate cooler and the glycol tank then begin to “talk” to each other through electronic signals. In this particular case, with a higher temperature setting, less glycol is sent over to the plate cooler. (All of the settings on the touch screen are password-protected, so only the farm owner or trusted managers can access them.)
  • The same thing can be done with the wash cycle. If you want the wash cycle to run at 146 degrees rather than 145 degrees, simply change the number on the touch screen. And, both an audible and a visual alarm will go off if 146 degrees isn’t being delivered. (If someone wants to know why a particular alarm is sounding, he can find that information on the touch screen.)
  • The system monitors each wash cycle for water temperature and flow rate. Therefore, if you can’t find a flow-rate record for the previous night, it means the employees skipped a wash. That is just one of the ways the system can monitor employee performance. Another way is to watch vacuum pump run time. If the vacuum pump runs for 12 hours straight without shutting down, it probably means that a wash cycle was skipped. 
  • You want run time for the vacuum pump to be in synch with the transfer pump; that way, milk is running through the plate cooler the entire time you are milking. If this isn’t occurring, and cows are still being milked, it’s a sign that the milk is being diverted somewhere — perhaps an open drain. The system at Kreiders keeps and eye on this and sounds an alarm if the pump run times aren’t in synch with one another.    
  • The air blow valve serves a critical function by purging the stainless steel line of milk and C.I.P. solution between milkings. The Kreider Farms milking crew used to have to operate this manually. But now the system is automatic, which improves efficiency and assures the valve is activated each and every time.

The idea is to bring assembly-line automation to a dairy farm, says Dwayne Zimmerman, president of Power Automation Systems in Harrisburg, Pa. By using the same kind of controls used in an industrial environment, you can control and supervise the process and continually acquire data to see if things happen the way you want them to happen, he says. 

New sensing equipment, adaptable to milking parlors, makes this possible.

“We feel that the information gained from this new sensing technology can be beneficial to the dairy producer as he manages his operation,” says Rob Kolb, vice president of marketing for WestfaliaSurge, Inc. “This data can help him in many areas, including equipment functionality, herd health and personnel management,” he adds.  “We are quite confident that even more options to gather the same data will become available in the future.

“While the current technology may be quite expensive and not within reach for the average producer, we think that with further development this type of data will be available to the more-mainstream dairy producer in the future,” Kolb says.

Bjarne Rune, market-development manager for DeLaval, agrees that producers will see more and more of this technology in the future. “Milk quality is greatly enhanced by this type of technology and, of course, efficiency of operation,” he says.