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1108 PD: New parlor, new problems? How to make the transition smooth

Norm Schuring Published on 24 July 2008

Building a new milking facility is a stressful time for everyone involved, especially the cows. In the midst of stress, it’s absolutely critical that you focus on the cows – their performance and health ultimately dictate the profitability of the new expansion.

The planning stages
How well cows will transition into new facilities should be one of the first considerations in the planning stages of the facility. Each and every detail for cow flow and cow comfort should be carefully evaluated before moving forward. Some of your decisions on size, location and design can directly impact how well cows will adapt and perform in the new parlor. Questions to ask yourself before building the new facility include:

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Number of cows to milk. Parlor size should be directly correlated to the projected number of milking cows in the herd. But it should also reflect grouping strategies and holding pen size. Make sure the parlor and holding pen are sized so cows won’t have to spend more than an hour away from resting and feeding areas. Less time away from their pen means more time to eat, rest and ruminate.

Efficiency goals. It’s important to take into consideration your goals for parlor efficiency when deciding on parlor size. This will influence the total number of cows you can milk in a 24-hour period and the maximum number of lactating cows that can be on the dairy. If you’re milking in another similar parlor, look at its current performance to get a ballpark indication of anticipated throughput.

Future growth. It’s important to address any foreseeable changes in the next five to 10 years. Are you planning to milk more cows? Will a younger generation be joining the operation? Avoid potential roadblocks and headaches by planning in advance. Any significant changes in the operation may ultimately impact the size of the milking parlor, and by planning ahead you will be prepared to better accommodate those changes.

Walking distance. The milking center can be quite a hike for cows if the barns are poorly positioned in relation to the parlor. The longer walk can adversely affect hoof health, while longer bouts away from the feedbunk can negatively influence cow performance and health. Measure how far they will travel and how long it will take the farthest group to reach the parlor and consider barn and parlor location as you plan.

Maximize cow flow. Remember additional cows can be taxing on other systems on your dairy. It’s important to take into consideration the proper sizing for each aspect of the facilities and how they complement one another. In addition to the parlor and holding pen, be sure to think about the freestalls, special-needs pens, hospital areas and alleyways, too.

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Once it’s built
With the new parlor up and running, it’s time to introduce cows into the new routine and facilities. Even in the best situation, it will take cows time to adjust to their new environment. You may notice lowered intakes in the first few weeks, resulting in a drop in milk production. A small drop in production should be expected, but how you handle the herd and the new facilities can minimize the production losses and help cows regain previous performance levels.

The first few times cows enter the new parlor it may take longer to complete milkings as they become comfortable with the surroundings. Especially if cows are moving from a different type of milking facility, the adjustment period may take longer than cows coming from a similar parlor setup.

Minimize stressors.
When entering an unfamiliar parlor, it’s no surprise that cows will be frightened initially. Cows may respond poorly if there are loud noises, poor lighting in the parlor entryways, slippery floors or aggressive cow movers. It’s critical you minimize any stress in the external environment so cows feel comfortable.

Evaluate performance.
Measure performance when cows first start in the new parlor and continue to track over time. As the weeks progress, you should see intake and production rise as cows become more comfortable with their new surroundings. If you don’t see gradual improvements, there may be something hindering performance.

Communicate with employees often.
The people milking and interacting with the herd on a daily basis will have a pretty good idea of how cows are responding to their new environment. Take the time to communicate with these individuals about what they’re seeing and listen to any suggestions to help cows transition more smoothly.

Other tips to smooth the transition
Here are a few more suggestions of ways to smoothly put cows into a new facility. The extra effort may be necessary for cows to perform to their potential in the midst of change:

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Follow the routine. Cows are creatures of habit, which makes parlor routine, just like any other routine, very important during times of transition. This means cows should be milked at the same time and with the same procedures. Milker training can ensure everyone is on the same page and provide the udder care cows will need under the stress of new facilities.

Limit time away. Minimize how long cows spend away from the feedbunk and freestalls. Cows should spend less than an hour in the holding pen so they have ample time to eat, rest and produce high volumes of milk. Finding any way to keep cows calm and eating can make the process go smoother.

Consult the experts. Local equipment dealers help producers integrate new milking facilities into their operations all the time, so their past experience may be a great resource to draw upon. Especially if cows are having a rough time, dealers may be able to provide insight into a few changes that can help cows adapt more quickly to their new surroundings.

As you make the transition into a new milking facility, it’s important to remember the financial impact the parlor has on the entire operation. Your hard work and efforts in management and planning are returned with performance in the parlor. Make sure you get the most from your operation by paying close attention to cow care and comfort, especially as you move into a new setting. PD

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