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Enhance parlor efficiency

Andrew Johnson for Progressive Dairyman Published on 05 May 2017

Parlor efficiency is critical to the profitability of all dairies regardless of size. A recent study showed the pounds of milk harvested per parlor stall per hour is one of the three most important factors influencing a dairy’s profitability. If a dairy can milk one additional parlor side per hour, the financial impact is huge, and labor costs and capital costs remain the same.

For example, if you have a double-20 parlor and milk 20 more cows per hour (one side), this means you will milk 140 more cows in a seven-hour shift. If the cows are giving 80 pounds a day at $17 milk, this will increase your annual income by $695,000.



A great goal for any parlor is to turn the parlor 4.5 to six times per hour. I have one large dairy using a full prep routine getting close to 6.5 turns per hour.

The two places you can impact parlor efficiency are at the beginning and end of milking. A proper milking routine will get cows to peak milk flow sooner and result in a shorter milking duration. A good goal is to have milking durations for herds milking 90 to 100 pounds per cow average range from 3.8 to 4.5 minutes.

Even though most people think of overmilking at the end of milking, by far the most overmilking occurs at the beginning of milking due to slow letdowns or bi-modal letdowns.

Oftentimes, if you watch the milk flow in the claw after unit attachment, you can immediately identify any problems. If the milk flow is immediate, then after 15 to 30 seconds slows way down and then finally comes back in another 30 seconds, it is a great sign of bi-modal letdown.

When the claw is on the udder with little to no milk flow, that is overmilking, even though it is at the beginning of milking. Ideally, when the machine is attached, the cow should go to high flow immediately and maintain the high flow until the end of milking.


The best way to achieve a rapid letdown and faster milking is to have the proper lag time. Lag time is defined as the time from stripping milk to unit attachment. The shortest lag time should be 90 seconds, with an excellent range being 90 to 180 seconds.

The old standard of 45 to 60 seconds is not working well on higher-producing herds. The routine most of my clients use that milks fast and produces excellent-quality milk consists of three steps:

  • Step 1: Dry wipe and pre-dip eight to 12 cows
  • Step 2: Strip and dry teats on eight to 12 cows
  • Step 3: Attach and align the unit on eight to 12 cows

Having the right vacuum in the claw during peak milk flow is another important factor in faster milking. Line or system vacuum is only an indicator to proper vacuum, but no milking system is properly evaluated unless vacuum is tested in the claw during peak milk flow while cows are milking.

I recommend claw vacuums during peak milk flow to range from 11.5 to 12.5 inches depending on udder prep, liner used, pulsator settings and automatic take-off (ATO) settings. To achieve the highest average and most stable claw vacuum at peak milk flow, it is important to pay attention to the milk flow path. Milk should not go uphill, and there should be no extra loops of milk hose or excess milk hose length.

ATO settings are another important factor to parlor efficiency as well. Most ATO systems have two settings you can adjust. One setting is the end of milk flow setting, and the other is the delay time. For good cows, a good end-of-milk-flow setting would be 1.8 to 2.4 pounds with a delay setting of one to three seconds.

You can evaluate whether your cows are being overmilked or not. Immediately after the machine is removed, take a plastic measuring cup and strip out each quarter as completely as possible. The goal is to have 250 to 400 cc of milk left in the udder when the machine comes off.


The most important part is to have this amount of milk evenly divided among the four quarters. If almost all the milk comes out of one quarter, then the issue is probably poor unit alignment or an improperly positioned teat in the inflation. On many dairies I check for residual milk, the levels are less than 100 cc for the whole udder, which indicates serious overmilking.

When you watch cows being milked, they often give you signs of discomfort at the end of milking and start stepping on and kicking at the units. Many cows will be their own ATO if the overmilking is severe enough.

Many ATO systems give dairy farmers many numbers to monitor. In my opinion, the most important number to monitor is the average pounds of milk per minute for the whole herd. This number really looks at the entire milking process and is impacted by udder prep, equipment settings and how the cows are handled during milking.

A good goal is to average over 7 pounds per minute. There are dairies over 8.5 pounds per minute which are doing a great job.

More equipment specialists are paying more attention to the phases of the pulsators rather than just the ratios. The most important thing about any pulsator test is that it is done with vacuum on and teat plugs in each inflation or testing under load. The new goal is to have a B phase (milking) be 490 to 525 milliseconds, and the D phase (rest) be over 220 milliseconds.

To achieve these numbers, you may need to change the ratio or rates of the pulsator system. Getting the pulsators set up correctly really influences faster milking and healthier teat ends.

The last step is good cow loading into the parlor. You do not want any of the people milking cows to chase the cows into the parlor but instead train the cows to enter on their own. Having a properly designed crowd gate makes this easy to achieve, but one poor-performing employee makes it tough to achieve. Cows can learn to wait for you to chase them in or learn to come in when the gate opens.

Great parlor efficiency is necessary if your dairy wants to achieve its maximum profit potential. Make sure your dairy is achieving the right goals so your parlor is as efficient as possible.  end mark

Andrew Johnson
  • Andrew Johnson

  • Herd Health and Wellness Veterinarian
  • Grande Cheese Company
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