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1008 PD: What can your milking parlor do for you?

Norm Schuring Published on 30 June 2008
We want it all when it comes to the milking parlor — high throughput, low costs, high-quality milk and herd health.

We can achieve these goals, but first we must identify which is most important to the operation. Is it number of turns per hour? Is labor efficiency the top priority, or is it the number of cows milked per operator? In most cases, producers will have multiple goals, meaning attention to detail is important for success.

How you answer the question, “What do we want from our milking parlor?” will greatly influence how it’s used and operated on a daily basis. We’ve identified some of the most common priorities in the milking parlor and how you can maximize success, regardless of how it’s operated and the efficiency measured.



Turns per hour
A standard measure of efficiency, turns per hour, calculates how many times each side of the milking parlor is filled and emptied during a one-hour period. Higher turns per hour equates to more cows being milked in 60 minutes, which means more cows can be milked during a given period or time frame. To obtain desired throughput, essential tasks must be completed while assuring the time for each task is properly assigned. Essential tasks refer to those which have to be completed during milking, such as wiping teats and machine attachment. Nonessential tasks, such as refilling the dip cup and retrieving clean towels, are not absolutely necessary to the milking process. You walk a tightrope between time and quality, but both can successfully be achieved. Proper training for all employees involved in the milk harvesting process can make optimal parlor throughput achievable.

See Table 1 for time benchmarks for essential tasks.

Have you measured turns per hour in your parlor recently? A goal in many operations is 4.5 turns per hour, which means a new group of cows enters the parlor every 13.3 minutes. If you’re not meeting this timing benchmark, here are a few areas that could be hindering your parlor throughput success:

Slippery parlor floor. Cows are very hesitant to move normally on slippery surfaces, which can slow cow movement and reduce throughput. Ensure that cows have quality footing as they enter and exit the parlor.

Extremely dirty udders. Cows with extremely dirty udders take longer to clean, slowing operator time. If this is a problem on your dairy, look at bedding quality and the condition of the cows’ environment.


Grouping strategy. High-producing and early lactating cows produce higher levels of milk than late-lactation cows and will often take longer to milk. Group cows appropriately so one or two cows are not reducing parlor throughput.

Operators traveling long distances. If one person is responsible for prepping, attaching and post-dipping an entire side in a double-16, they will have a higher operator procedure time to maintain, which can slow throughput. Typically, one person should be responsible for eight to 12 stalls in linear parlors to ensure optimal throughput.

Labor efficiency
Producers can measure labor efficiency in multiple ways including labor costs per hour, labor costs per operator and hourly labor costs per milking stall. You can also calculate labor costs per hundredweight of milk, which is a great benchmark because it’s driven by three different numbers: (1) number of hundredweights harvested per hour, (2) labor costs per hour per operator and (3) number of operators employed per milking session.

Labor costs per hundredweight can vary greatly, but anything under $0.70 is acceptable. Aim for $0.50 if possible, which means making at least one of the following parlor improvements:

1. Improve procedures and routine to harvest more pounds of milk each hour.

2. Lower labor cost per hour by assuring time is not wasted by operators completing tasks not associated with milk harvest.


3. Analyze operator performance to determine if one or more people can be removed from the parlor without losing efficiency.

Since all three are independent of one another, an improvement in one or more can result in lowered labor costs per hundredweight.

Cows milked per milker
Some dairies have goals to milk as many cows in a 24-hour period as possible, which means efficiency is the key. Some believe skipping premilking steps can speed up the process, but if bypassing predipping and forestripping and other premilk routines, milk letdown is normally influenced. Research has shown that skipping recommended practices like predipping and forestripping can lead to shorter bouts of time before the unit is attached, but longer milk-out times. Practices like predipping and forestripping not only reduce bacteria levels and identify new cases of mastitis, but they also stimulate milk letdown, resulting in optimal milk-out time.

Many dairies have established goals to milk 100 to 110 cows per operator hour, but a more realistic benchmark should be 75 to 80 cows per hour.

Making a change
Now that you’ve identified what you want most from your milking parlor, you have to make the right adjustments so your parlor performs just as you’ve planned. Changing your scheme is more than just identifying your focus. It may take additional work in grouping strategies, employee responsibilities and parlor efficiency to achieve your new goals. Here are some tips on how to make adjustments as you transform your focus and practices.

• Never sacrifice quality. No matter what is most important in your milking parlor, milk quality should never be sacrificed to accomplish your goals. Poor milk quality is the result of higher somatic cell counts and mastitis cases, which directly impact profitability. Minimizing udder health problems starts in the milking parlor.

• Work with an expert. If improvements or changes are on the horizon, consult the people who know the parlor best. Work with your local equipment dealer on what reasonable parlor goals should be and how they can be achieved.

• Put cows first. Regardless of your parlor goals, remember that the cows and udder health should always be the primary focus. As long as you make cow health and milk quality a top priority, other goals will fall into place.

• Make decisions before building. If a new parlor is in your future, take into consideration what you want from your parlor before starting to build. Some parlors, like herringbones and parallel parlors, can be adjusted to optimize turns per hour while other parlor styles, like a rotary parlor, move at a constant speed. By deciding your goals before the blueprints are created, the resulting parlor can match your intended goals.

• Prioritize. It may seem overwhelming as you make changes to your parlor practices. To start, make a list of the top three things you want to accomplish in your parlor. Work with your milking team, facilities consultant and local dealer to put this action plan into place. (See Table 2 for an example of some parlor efficiency goals.)

The milking parlor is one of the most expensive investments you make on the dairy, which makes it so important to get exactly what you want from it. After prioritizing your goals, work to incorporate them into your parlor strategies to ensure your milking facilities, and the people running them, are performing to their potential. PD

Norm Schuring
Vice President for