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0107 PD: How’s your pit crew doing?

Warren Gilson Published on 10 January 2007

Anyone who is even remotely familiar with automobile racing knows that the pit crew is an important part of the racing team. No matter how good the driver, successes or failures in the pit area can have a significant impact on the outcome of the race. The crew is constantly making adjustments and operates as a team to accomplish all of the necessary tasks as efficiently as possible. Seconds or fractions of seconds count and may be the difference between winning or finishing second or worse.

The pit crew on a dairy is very different from the one in an automobile race; however, they are no less important. They too must work together as a team to accomplish their goal. Inefficiencies result in lower production per hour and per person and lower profits.

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There are numerous ways of measuring the efficiency of a parlor. A common method is turns per hour. This is a measure of the number of cows which are milked within an hour’s time and determines to a great extent the number of cows that can be milked within a day’s time. It also has a large impact on the total amount of milk because the amount of milk produced has a low correlation with the time needed to harvest it.

Many of the highly efficient dairy producers with modern, efficient parlors aim for five turns per hour. This translates into 12 minutes between groups. Some producers have even achieved faster through-put. This is commendable and represents a very efficient operation if high levels of milk production and milk quality are maintained.

However, many producers are not able to achieve this goal because of constraints placed on them by facilities. A more achievable goal for these producers is four turns per hour, which translates into 15 minutes per group. Obviously, this is less efficient but more achievable for many with older parlors. Unfortunately, many producers are not even achieving this level of efficiency.

Have you looked at your through-put lately? How many turns do you achieve per hour? If it is less than four turns per hour, significant changes need to be implemented. Examine your milking procedures to see where things bog down. Have someone else observe your milking procedures if necessary.

•Are cows slow in entering or exiting the parlor?

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•Are the cows dirty when they enter the parlor?

•How quickly are machines attached after the cows enter the parlor?

•How long is the time between prepping the cows and attaching the machines?

•How long do the machines remain attached?

•Are cows being machine-stripped following milking?

All these questions and many others need to be answered. Once the milking procedures have been evaluated, determine how the situation can be improved. There is the old adage that “Time is money.” It is no truer than in the milking parlor. Excess time spent milking the cows is time that could be spent accomplishing other tasks. I’m not advocating the milking routine be compromised, but simply evaluated to see if it can be more efficient. PD

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References omitted due to space but are available upon request.

—From Georgia DairyFax, January/February 2006

Warren Gilson

Director of Consulting Services for Cooperative Resources International

Q. In your experience, is slower parlor through-put more often related to human inefficiencies or facility design?

The answer is “Yes.” Many of the older parlors have built-in inefficiencies which are difficult to overcome.

The more modern parlors have generally reduced these inefficiencies; however, producers may still cause inefficiencies in design by stipulating specific design elements.

There are also a number of human inefficiencies which may creep into the routine. A very common one, particularly in older parlors, is the milker going into the holding area to drive the cows into the parlor.

This leaves the machines unattended and takes away from the milking routine. When two people are in the parlor, the person remaining ends up covering all of the machines and the routine is altered. The cows need to be trained to enter the parlor on their own without prodding, and this can be frustrating for some individuals.

Training is also more difficult if the cows are accustomed to the routine of being driven into the parlor. Basically, the cows have trained the milker to go into the holding area, instead of the cows being trained to enter the parlor of their own accord. Another common inefficiency is the routine itself. If the routine is orderly, all of the steps will be performed in a timely manner and with a minimum of steps by the milker.

This results in a consistent routine and optimum milk let-down. A side benefit is that the milker feels less rushed and more comfortable. Milk quality and productivity may also be improved as milk-out is improved, and it is easier to spot problems. Steps in the procedure such as teat dipping are less apt to be skipped if the routine is orderly.

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