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Eliminate restrictions to enhance the milking process

Jason LeGassick for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 September 2017

I am often asked, “How can I get more cows through my parlor?” This is a very common question, as the economics of dairying are getting tougher. Another huge issue facing dairymen is that labor to milk cows is harder to find, and the labor is coming at a premium price.

Dairymen need to get more cows through the same parlor, maximizing both their capital purchasing and their labor expenses.

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When analyzing your equipment, a dairyman needs to look at what the bottlenecks are in each milking parlor and eliminate the restrictions. What are the cows telling us? Are they hesitant coming in the parlor? Once in the parlor, are they calm? Do they stand still when they get stripped or when units are applied? Do you have a lot of bimodal letdowns?

If you answered in the negative to any of these questions, then we need to examine if the milking equipment in your parlor is still the best option for your cows and their amount of production.

Dairymen are always trying to improve genetics in their herd. They improve feed rations. They improve the cows’ housing. They put in more heat abatement. But how often is the milking equipment being evaluated? Remember, as we change everything else on the farm, the most overlooked part, the milking parlor, needs to be evaluated as well.

Small 5/8-inch or 3/4-inch equipment may no longer be adequate for the type of cows that we are working with in today’s high-production herds. We may also still be using equipment that lifts milk, which slows the milking process.

Dairymen need to make sure they have the proper equipment that will meet the goals of the dairy. Just recently, I was in a double-10 herringbone parlor; the dairyman needed to add cows, and he wanted to milk the cows more efficiently. We decided as a team that perhaps it was time to upgrade his milking equipment, so we took out his old 5/8-inch equipment and replaced it with new 7/8-inch equipment.

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We also added automatic takeoffs designed to help him manage his parlor and his employees more efficiently. The results from moving to the bigger diameter and eliminating restrictions in the milk were incredible. We were able to shave off an hour of milking and lower the system vacuum by a little over 2 inches of vacuum.

An extra benefit was that his cows now come in the parlor more willingly, and his fresh 2-year-old heifers no longer kick and dance while they are getting milked. This is an extremely common occurrence on dairies when they upgrade to nonrestrictive milking equipment.

Why does it matter, you ask? Would you haul a tanker of milk with a pickup? If we upgrade the milk tanker size, we need a bigger truck to haul it. The same logic applies in the parlor. We so often overlook the little signs that are in the parlor each day. Why have your durations lengthened? Why have you consistently had to increase your system vacuum over the years? Why have the cows and heifers become more irritated as they are being milked? These symptoms are all caused by vacuum fluctuation.

By eliminating vacuum fluctuation, it resolves a lot of these issues. When a dairy replaces smaller-diameter equipment like 5/8-inch or 3/4-inch, we will be able to stabilize the system’s claw vacuum. This will allow the dairy to increase flow rates, shorten duration and lower system vacuum, and all of these will increase the throughput of your milking parlor.

Milk production has increased significantly over the past few years. It is now common to see herds with an average production of more than 100 pounds of milk per cow per day. Dairymen need to be very cautious and very objective with the equipment they choose to milk these high-producing cows.

Dairymen should choose equipment that not only will help milk cows more efficiently, which will improve throughput and labor costs, but they should also choose equipment that can give the owners and managers the right tools to manage the milking process and parlor easily.

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As we try to bridge the gap between our milk harvest technicians and the owners, choosing equipment that can give quick, efficient reporting that will help milk harvest technicians manage themselves may make all the difference in having happier milk harvest technicians and a more efficient milking parlor.

Perhaps choose an automatic takeoff that will give simple but helpful graphs and data that dairymen can show to the milk harvest technicians daily to help give them incentive to do a better job. It is human nature for everyone to want to do a good job, so why not put equipment in place that can help employees manage themselves? When employees can see through easy, key performance indicators how good of a job they are doing, they will naturally want to do a better job.

When the milking equipment in the parlor can provide easy-to-interpret live data that is easily seen at the employee level, it is very easy for the employee to know when they are not doing as good of a job or when they are exceeding the goals set. This type of information seen by employees will also show them that even though they are getting units on cows quicker, without the proper prep procedures, they are actually slowing down the milking process.

Even though spending some money in the milking parlor may not be on the radar, it may be the most beneficial thing a dairyman can do. We do not want to hold the potential of our magnificent animals back just because we are making shortcuts in the milking parlor. Without the proper equipment, all of the other things we do to improve our herd may all be for naught.

I would encourage dairymen to have discussions with their dairy equipment dealers and consultants they work with and see if it is time to make the necessary improvements to the milking equipment. Larger, nonrestrictive equipment may just be the best money a dairyman will ever spend on the farm.  end mark

Jason LeGassick
  • Jason LeGassick

  • Sales and Marketing Manager
  • BECO Dairy Automation Inc.
  • Email Jason LeGassick

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