With this month’s special insert – “PRECISION DAIRY: Give your milking center a diagnostic overhaul” — Dairy Herd Management turned to its Editorial Advisory Board members, asking them to describe management practices or other tools they’ve utilized to improve milking center efficiency.

The right mix 

“There are a lot of things that go into parlor efficiency. The parlor design; the people involved; how the process is broken down; how the cows are handled; and cow cleanliness, to name a few,” noted Sandy Stauffer, Nicholville, N.Y. “We have a new facility built just three years ago, which is a definite advantage. The right mix of people is critical. A year ago we realized we could get another group of cows through the parlor in our allotted time if we put a third person in the parlor. We probably lost a little in cows per person and milk per person, but overall it was positive. Probably the biggest contributor to parlor efficiency is a positive work environment, where people cooperate.”

Sorting is important

“We have a double-12 parallel parlor to milk about 810-840 cows (3X), so we are pressed for time,” said Lloyd Holterman, Watertown, Wis. “We sort the 66 slowest milking cows into one pen, regardless of age, which has really improved our cow flow. The 72 fastest mid-lactation two-year-olds (0 to 4.5 minutes unit on time) are in one group, and another 72 two-year-olds (4.5 to 7 minutes of unit on time) are in another group. Without these sorts, we would lose about 10-15% of our parlor capacity.”

Simple steps

“We use territorial milking and make sure milkers use proper prep routines for optimum milk letdown, including stripping and wiping,” said Amanda Arata, Amargosa Valley, Nev. “It’s nothing incredible, but it works. If I built another parlor, I would make it narrow to save milker steps; not as eye appealing, but definitely more efficient.”

Efficiency a strength

“Every dairy farm has strengths and weaknesses. We believe parlor efficiency is one of our strengths,” said Don Bennink, North Florida Holsteins, Bell, Fla. “Our 24-year-old double-40 parallel parlor lets us milk 3,600 cows (3X, milking about 90 lbs. of milk per cow per day) with three people. We milk at the rate of 485 cows per hour, or six turnovers per hour. We milk 7.5 hours, clean up for a half hour, and the next 8-hour shift comes in.

The basic principle of what determines parlor speed is when the last properly prepared cow is hung. That means each of the three milkers prepare and hang a different number of cows. The first milker the most; and the last milker the least. If that becomes a problem, milkers can change positions during the shift.”

Maximize robot efficiency

“To make the robots as efficient as possible, we use preselection gates and a holding area to sort out cows that don’t need to be milked – before they get to the robots,” explained Amy Martin, LeRoy, Mich. “We also have a sort pen for fresh cows (and a couple hardto- attach cows) for a few days. We

bring these cows into the robots and manually attach them, 3x/day. Fresh cows with edema can require longer robot attachment times, so manual attachment improves efficiency, and gives us more visual time with them.

We make sure the robots are never empty, and take advantage of the slow times of day/night for wash time (5 a.m./p.m.). Our robot wash cycle is 30 minutes, twice a day, to allow more milking time.”

Building toward efficiency

“We had milking efficiency evaluated, and discovered we are not maximizing our parlor,” said Deb Reinhart, New Holstein, Wis. ”We feel we could harvest more milk with smaller groups in the holding area. This presents some cow flow issues, as we have added cows over the years – and not updated housing facilities. We are planning to update manure storage – which does not affect parlor throughput – but it does give us some opportunity to add freestalls and return alleys that will improve the time a cow is away from feed, water and comfort. This also is an opportune time to maximize the parlor throughput, harvest more milk and utilize labor more effectively.”

Parlor maintenance

“I can’t really come up with one thing ... it seems to be a constant evolution of many small things,” said Rod Hissong, Mercersburg, Pa. “Over the last few years we dedicated people to keep up on parlor maintenance. This can be larger things, like changing inflations to meter and pulsator rebuilds and vacuum regulator maintenance. It also includes little things on a daily basis, like replacing broken clips that hold the milkers, to making sure hoses are adjusted and organized correctly.

Our parlor is expected to perform at a high level. It is like having the best race car driver in the world, but giving them an inferior car. We need to give them the tools to get the job done at a high level.”