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Circle or straight: Is a rotary parlor right for you?

Steve Mattox Published on 30 September 2015
cows being milked

Rotary parlors are becoming firmly entrenched in the industry and may be the optimal choice for large dairies that milk more than 2,000 cows. However, should you consider one for your future, regardless of herd size?

When deciding to install a new parlor, the focus should be on your objectives. Cow comfort, return on investment and ease of operation all play a major role in rotary parlors.



Cow comfort

A very important consideration should be the welfare of your cows. Good dairy farmers establish procedures and parlor protocols for proper milking – but often have them neglected or ignored due to people controlling the parlor.

In contrast, a rotary parlor controls the operators instead of the operators controlling the parlor. I always say, “Cows are much easier to train and more consistent than people.”

Once cows learn they will have proper udder prep, proper stimulation time and consistency in the amount of parlor time, they respond very positively.

Rotaries provide a smooth, consistent flow of cows rather than starting and stopping in batches. This is because rotaries are very precisely timed machines. Cows want to come into the parlor without being forced. With proper design, cow traffic is very casual compared to the hustle of moving large groups in a limited amount of time.

Cows love to ride the platform that allows them their own space, but they are still close enough to see their “buddies.” The proximity of other cows is reassuring but not confining.


Cows riding rotaries are so comfortable that most will chew their cud, which animal husbandry teaches is the ultimate sign of contentment. When designed with the proper entrance and exit area, along with a panoramic view, cows are very willing participants in the process.

Return on investment

Though cow comfort is a high priority, you need to justify the return on investment. Initial investment in a rotary is much greater than in conventional parlors, not only due to equipment costs but also the building design.

The greater hourly output per unit of equipment and labor, however, makes the rotary a more efficient investment over time, especially when applied to large numbers of cows.

One of the key performance indicators in any dairy operation is equipment usage. Being able to increase machine usage from 3.5 to five turns per hour to five to seven turns per hour (roughly a 40 percent increase) will dramatically change the cost-benefit ratio.

Cost of ownership would not be complete without investigating the maintenance and service you will need with any piece of equipment. Since rotaries need fewer clusters, meters, pulsators, etc., to milk the same herd size, overall maintenance costs of these items would be reduced.

You would never buy a lawn tractor to farm 1,000 acres because downtime and service would be prohibitive. The same is true when determining the type of rotary parlor best for your needs.


There are rotaries with different levels of service intervals, and you should also consider the design and redundancy built into it. Some companies facilitate the ability to continue milking while servicing parts of the rotary though, for safety reasons, it is never appropriate for a person to be on a rotating platform.

Additionally, look at the expected longevity of the design, since major repairs later are very costly, not only in parts but also in lost production during downtime of the parlor. These have a huge impact on cost of ownership.

Ease of operation

Farm management software is another benefit of modern rotaries, with the option to build this functionality directly into the system. Getting proper identification of the cows, milk weights and conductivity, as well as sorting cows upon exiting the parlor, are seamless with a herd management system and the rotary if the two systems have been engineered to work together.

Another huge advantage to rotaries is the implementation of robotics to further enhance the consistency of tasks being performed properly. Several platforms are being outfitted with spray robots with good results in teat dip coverage, minimal usage of material and reduced labor.

Are rotaries right for you?

Rotary parlors are very efficient, but several other considerations need to happen outside the parlor for ultimate success. Cows need to be clean when they arrive to the platform.

Traffic patterns need to be handled with minimal human intervention, and distances to the parlor should be reasonable. Use of good crowd gates is a must. Proper training of personnel is essential, as is proper facility planning and design.

Whether your objectives are cow comfort, ease of operations, return on investment or all of the above, rotaries can and do have a place in the industry. Cows like to go for a comfortable ride, relaxed and at their own pace, which equates into improved productivity.

Rotary parlors can milk cows quicker and harvest more milk with better routines, more consistency and proper protocols than any other parlor today.

You should consult with your local dealer for planning and design details before deciding on your next parlor and your method of producing a high-quality food for the future.  PD

PHOTO: In rotary parlors, cows like to go for a comfortable ride, relaxed and at their own pace, which helps to improve productivity. Photo provided by DeLaval.

Steve Mattox
  • Steve Mattox

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