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What type of investment should dairy producers consider making to their milking systems this year?

Progressive Dairy Editor Karen Lee Published on 07 February 2020

For most dairies, profits found in 2020 will likely be used to pay back debt accrued in recent years. Financial advisers also suggest using profits to grow the business or make it more efficient. Since the milking system is the most heavily used equipment on the farm, it could be an area worthy of added investment.

Progressive Dairy reached out to several experts in the industry and asked the following question: What type of investment should dairy producers consider making to their milking systems this year? Here are their helpful responses that could get you thinking of ways to enhance your milking equipment and its use this year.

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I would have to say automation upgrades – meaning if no detachers, add detachers; if no automated post-spray, especially on a rotary, addition of automated post-spray; any addition of automation to reduce or replace labor. What to put into use on each farm really depends on what exists currently.

—Paul Peetz, Lely North America

I would definitely invest in scheduled service, along with optimal cow milking and CIP cleaning optimization services. If you are not on a program, I would work with your dairy equipment and milk quality professionals to create a program customized to your operation that is focused on meeting your goals.

If you are on a program, the new year is a great time to meet with your team to review your program and see where you are with your objectives and goals. This is a key strategy to make sure milk harvest is optimal and that you receive all your possible milk premiums. Scheduled service before failure is always a worthwhile investment to avoid expensive breakdowns and failures that cause problems with your milking and cleaning systems. Beyond saving time, it is protecting your investment in cows and producing the highest-quality milk possible.

Another great area to invest in are things that create consistency, quality and labor savings. FutureCow Teat Prep System (Teat Scrubber) has done an excellent job in doing just that on dairies of all sizes across North America. Streamlined and consistent cow prep, superior stimulation and improved teat health and milk quality are all things that have been realized on dairies I work with on a regular basis. It is a great way to have consistency between all people milking – from their first hour of work to their last.

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—Keith L. Engel, milk quality specialist, GEA

Investments into a milking system would begin by getting a good, factual realization of how many cows are being milked per person per hour without set-up and clean-up. This number would be the first step to determining whether a milking system investment is warranted. Current standards are around 64 cows per person per hour, but know that some systems are milking 70 to 90 cows per person per hour. Many systems are half that in cow throughput per person hour or even much less, as some are in the 15- to 25-cow range per person hour.

Sometimes the investment needs to be in milker training, with too much time spent getting out of the pit to get cows or too much time forcing cows to move faster than their comfort level, causing stress and adrenaline release, which counteracts oxytocin for milk letdown. Oftentimes, the investment needs to be in identifying “bottlenecks” that lessen cow flow into the parlor or out into the exit area and beyond.

The above are often cheap, quick fixes to consider first. These would be followed by changes in parlor stall design, floor slopes, lighting, crowd gates and automatic take-offs to aid in cow flow and milking consistency. Quite often, the changes do not have to cost a lot of money, but I am often amazed at how many inefficiencies dairy producers are often willing to put up with in their milking systems when the cost of fixing the problem is often quite minimal. When looking at dairy profits, labor efficiency is becoming more of a driver, and the milking system is often the biggest culprit on the farm causing labor inefficiency. If a dairy producer’s system is less than standard, they are highly encouraged to consider improving it.

—Dr. Larry Tranel, dairy field specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

All milking systems are different in design, components and configuration, but every milking system is a high-performance machine. Nobody would ever buy a Ferrari (or a new tractor) and never change the oil, but milkhose, twin tubes, gaskets and, yes, vacuum pump oil tend to go on the back burner. Yet if milking cows is your business, it’s your parlor and not the tractor that pays the bills on a dairy. Milking parlor maintenance is a commonly cut cost when times are lean, but whether your milking system is new or old, the one investment that always pays is maintenance.

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Milking systems are all about flow. Flow of liquids, as in milk and CIP wash solution. Flow of air as in creation of vacuum by removing air from the system and regulation of vacuum by controlling air admission or air removal (flow) rates. Quality milk happens when these flows are constant and maintained. This only happens consistently when pumps are efficient, seals seal, unplanned leaks are minimized, rubber is soft and smooth, slope is maintained, and components are operating at peak performance and efficiency. If you budget for maintenance of your milking equipment this year, avoid the lump-sum sticker shock and spread it out by doing maintenance every month based on the actual maintenance intervals rather than servicing everything annually.

Spending money on the milking system is never a sexy purchase but is a smart move if you want to harvest large volumes of high-quality milk quickly and efficiently. In 2020, resolve to treat your milking system to some new rubber, some new filters, fresh oil in the pump and, next time you rev it up, see if it handles a bit better in those curves dairying throws at you.

—Brandon Treichler, veterinarian, Select Milk Producers end mark

Karen Lee
  • Karen Lee

  • Editor
  • Progressive Dairy
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