Lighting that works in parlors

Dean Allen acknowledges that the milking parlor at his family's southeast Minnesota dairy looked "kind of dungeoney" a few years ago — due, in large part, to a low, 8-foot ceiling and the need for more supplemental lighting. 

Since then, the Allens have elevated the ceiling several feet, which has given the parlor a much more "open" look. And, they have hung some bright halogen lights from the ceiling. The results have been remarkable.

Dean Allen is hesitant to say whether the improved lighting has had an appreciable effect on productivity in the double-12 milking parlor. The milkers who worked under darker conditions a few years ago are no longer there. So, it is impossible to compare productivity among the same set of workers.  

Nevertheless, it just makes sense to give milkers a good, well-lit view of the udders, points out David Reid, director of milk harvest science and technology for Bou-Matic.

Here are some suggestions for achieving that:

Down at cow level

Some parlors may seem well-lit when you first walk into them, but appearances can be deceiving. If lights are hung from the ceiling, shadows can occur down where the milkers are prepping udders and attaching units.

One dairy in New York State solved this problem by setting up a bank of fluorescent lights down each side of the parlor — right above the stalls. The lights on one side shine toward the udder-preparation area on the other side, thus creating a "criss-cross" effect. 

That's the trick — getting the light down to where the milkers need it, points out Joel Bergerstock, of Cidec Dairy Equipment and Sales, which installed the fluorescent lighting fixtures in the New York parlor. Cidec's crew took great care to angle the lights so they would shine directly onto the tips of the cows" udders.

Typically, this type of lighting will deliver 40 to 50 foot-candles of light intensity at udder level, says Robert Engle, performance project developer for WestfaliaSurge. Both Engle and Reid agree that 50 foot-candles is a good goal to achieve. (Please see sidebar at right for how to measure foot-candles.) 

Easy to install

The type of lighting found in the New York parlor can be installed in almost any facility.

The Cidec crew hangs the fluorescent light fixtures by small chains from an overhead pulsation line, ceiling rafter or other fixed object. Hanging the light fixtures with small chains accomplishes several objectives:

  • It allows installers to adjust the height and angle of the lights to exact specifications.
  • It allows the light fixtures to "float" rather than being fixed hard to the stalls. Fixtures that are bolted or screwed tight to a milking stall can break, because cows often bang against the stalls.

  Given the amount of water that is sprayed in a parlor, it is vital that a moisture-proof outer casing protect the fluorescent light bulbs. Otherwise, the bulbs will be damaged the first time someone accidentally points a water hose at them, says Chris Nelson, co-owner of Cidec in Auburn, N.Y.

Cidec buys a special outer covering for the light fixtures it installs, using a clear polyvinyl covering on the front side and a sturdy fiberglass backing on the underside. Cidec sells the completed fixtures for $282 apiece.

A couple of other quick points:

  • T-8 fluorescent bulbs usually provide better light output than T-12 bulbs.
  • In cold conditions, it is not the type of bulb that makes the difference; rather, it is the type of ballast.
  • Electronic ballasts are better suited for cold conditions than magnetic ballasts, plus they are quieter, more energy-efficient and less prone to flickering.

How to measure light intensity

Try to provide at least 40 to 50 foot-candles of light intensity down where the milkers are prepping udders and attaching units. To measure foot-candles, you will need a light meter.

A hand-held light meter manufactured by Mitchell Instrument Co. (Model No. 4G217) sells for $99. Call the company's customer hotline at (888) 270-2690.

Another company, Technika, has a light meter (Model No. 840021) which can measure up to 2,000 foot-candles. It sells for $98. For more information, call (480) 348-0278 or go to the Web site,

Greenlee Textron also sells a light meter or luxmeter (Model No. 93-172). It has a list price of $175, but you may be able to get a lower price through a distributor. For more information: (815) 397-7070.