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0509 PD: Automation can keep efficiencies in check

Norm Schuring Published on 13 March 2009

In tough economic times your first instinct may be to cut costs any way possible and fail to analyze how these cost-cutting measures may influence the output side of your business.

It is crucial that milk production and quality remain consistent while attempting to lower input costs to deal with financial struggles. But before you start cutting out costs, remember that sound management plans and operational procedures were implemented to add value to your operation that promoted your success.

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Here are a few areas to examine when considering making changes to save money:

• Don’t stop dipping
Skipping pre- and post-dipping may save time and money, but years of research and practical field experience clearly demonstrates the value of using research-proven teat dip far outweighs the short-term projected savings. Taking away pre- and post-dipping only leads to additional herd health risks and milk quality problems in the long run. The added risks relating to problems of udder and teat health can be significant, eventually costing more than what was initially saved.

• Analyze labor needs
Depending on your situation, cutting employees may or may not be an option. If the milking staff has less time to properly implement milking procedures, milk production and quality can suffer. However, if you can reduce parlor labor with automation or improved milking procedures and processes, make sure you discuss the ideas with remaining employees to potentially lower overall operational costs.

• Optimize machine functionality
Maintain parlor performance through regularly scheduled maintenance programs. Milk harvest and milk-handling equipment consist of many moving parts that wear and become less efficient over time. Ignoring the performance of your equipment can add to your costs through less milk production and lower milk quality. In addition, the risks of unexpected service calls and parlor downtime will increase your frustration and long-term losses that would have not been seen with regular and proper maintenance. Emergency calls are often more costly than regularly scheduled maintenance, so regular upkeep of parlor equipment is an important way to maintain budgets.

• Use already-implemented systems
Tools such as herd management software to identify cows that are no longer profitable should be strongly considered, especially when profits are harder to achieve. When cash is tight, make sure to pay close attention to these tools and management needs that identify unprofitable animals and make decisions accordingly. For example, by identifying and removing the bottom 10 to 15 percent of the herd, you may gain additional bunkspace and reduce overcrowding. With such improvements, many dairies actually have seen milk production per cow rise.

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• Find new ways to be efficient.
Look for ways to optimize parlor throughput. Some ways to improve efficiency include improving parlor automation, grouping cows to best suit parlor throughput and working with employees to ensure parlor routine best matches the herd’s goals. In some cases, implementing automation can be more economical than dealing with rising labor costs.

Use technology to save money
Tough times often call for producers to lay low rather than making additional investments, but improving efficiencies can help make technology investments more palatable. For example, if adding a new technology to your operation allows for less labor inputs, it makes economic sense to implement such changes.

Technologies will continue to revolutionize the dairy industry and providing more automation to simplify routine tasks will continue to be the focus. We’ve investigated current and future technologies that may transform how your cows are milked.

Today’s basic technology
Automation in a multitude of roles which have proven to be time-saving and cost-effective:

• Automatic take-offs allow operators to complete parlor routines rather than monitoring each cow for time of detachment.
Early research and expanded field experience indicate this can save up to 40 percent of an operator’s time. This allows for more tasks to be completed in the same amount of time and is a great example of how, when organized properly, fewer people can complete the same tasks.

• Milk meters are utilized to monitor individual cow performance.
The ability to quickly identify cows performing outside a designated range triggers the staff to separate these animals for closer examination and care. Early identification of udder health problems can minimize herd health costs and influence the cow’s future production performance.

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Advanced technology in practice

• Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
RFID has become a commonly used parlor technology to allow us to monitor individual cow performance. Whether ear tags, neck tags or leg transponders, RFID allows for more intensive management practices providing information on each animal. More easily accessible information means producers can track animals daily to identify changes over time.

• Computer software programs

Many software programs are available that interface with RFID readers, allowing more information to be downloaded and stored for analysis. Charts and graphs can be created and subsequently analyzed on a daily basis, in addition to a listing of cows that need to be checked.

The future of parlor technology

• Robotics
The technology available today is allowing producers to consider a different approach to the milk harvest process. New technologies continue to be explored that will provide the opportunity to save labor costs and potentially improve the future of dairying. Robotic milking systems and other new potential technologies are being developed to save input costs and improve daily operations. Labor input per number of cows will continue to be a focus that will drive profits and establish important technologies to move our industry forward.

While the short-term future looks challenging today, udder health and milk quality should remain a top priority for maximized profitability. Consider how technology can lead to improvements in your dairy’s efficiency and work with your equipment dealer and assessment team to identify the best way to make such technological advancements. PD

Norm Schuring
Vice President for
GEA WestfaliaSurge

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