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1408 PD: Manage milkers to manage the parlor

Tom Fuhrmann Published on 29 September 2008

Milking routines are all about cow throughput and milk quality.

Progressive dairymen seem to have it figured out – their parlors run smooth and their milkers have a swagger. Other dairymen seem to struggle with parlor management. Successful owners have figured out that managing milkers is:

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• determining the routine (“This is why we do it here.”)

• training milkers (“This is how we do it here.”)

• monitoring and providing feedback

Determine your milking routine
Determining “this is how we do it here” is not always so simple. When you have a large parlor, lots of milkers and cows moving all the time, it is difficult to determine how to do it right and fast. Some struggle with getting done on time and compromise on quality procedures; others overdo quality at the expense of milking more cows. Most dairies have peaks and valleys in cow numbers throughout the year and have to compromise milking routine when cow numbers are high and then relax when milkers have plenty of time.

Recognize that milking routine is a work routine that has structure: it is territorial, sequential or group. If your routine is not recognizable as one of these, you probably have the opportunity to improve parlor management. Milking procedures (the cowside actions your milkers do) are either pre-dip or pre-spray, forestrip, wipe, attach. Your decision is which (or which combination) of the above are appropriate for the quality and throughput standards you have for your dairy with your equipment, environment, your workers and your goals.

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You may want to use an adviser who can do time-motion studies to improve your throughput and assist you to determine which procedures are necessary to meet your quality goals.

Under most circumstances, it is possible to maximize both throughput and quality by planning the details of when and how milkers move through the parlor. Here are a few tips:

• You need to have “all units on” within a range of four to five minutes.

• You should turn your parlor every 12 to 15 minutes.

• Minimal pre-milking procedures increase the risk of poor milk quality results and higher levels of environmental mastitis; they provide the highest throughput.

• Full pre-milking procedures require more time, more organization or more milkers but improve the opportunity to maximize milk quality and reduce mastitis.

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Training milkers
Training is always necessary when workers are involved; it may not be necessary if you haven’t organized their work! Training of a new milker can be done (usually by default) by experienced milkers for the new employee when your milking routine is well-established and producing desired results. Training needs to be done by you or an outside adviser when installing a new routine with existing milkers.

Effective milker training has three steps:

1. HEAR

2. SEE

3. DO

Milking schools often fail to be effective training sessions when they do not include the “see and do” part of training. Milkers may hear the right things, but fail to see (“Oh, you really want me to strip each teat twice.” or “Oh, you really mean to wipe with a grab, twist and pull motion.”) exactly what is meant when it is not clearly demonstrated. When managers and trainers direct, watch and encourage milkers to do the new procedures during the initial training process in the parlor, milkers really come to understand what is intended and expected.

Trainers guarantee success, and milkers that don’t “buy in” are identified before they sabotage the new routine. The initial training session must be followed up with constant oversight for one to two weeks – enough time to replace the old habit with a new one – before the new milking routine is born.

Monitoring your parlor
Managers of the smooth-operating parlors always have their “antennas up,” monitoring workers and their results. Monitoring begs feedback, and feedback is what motivates milkers to either do a good job or change to do better. While a few dairymen have sophisticated reports from ParlorWatch or computer-driven data, any dairyman can monitor milker performance by techniques and reports available to everyone. Here are a few tips:

• Walk into your parlor, unannounced, and evaluate teats on the side of the parlor opposite where milkers are attaching units. Count the number of dirty teats on 10 cows after machine removal (e.g., 3 teats out of 40) and promptly comment to your milkers on what you conclude. If milkers executed the routine correctly 10 minutes ago, before you entered the parlor, all teats should be clean. If several teats (you determine by your standards) are dirty, milker performance is inadequate. A quick thumbs-up or thumbs-down motivates or permits corrective comments. This motivation or discipline shows milkers you care and that they are being monitored.

• Look at milk filters. Dirt means teats are not cleaned thoroughly prior to machine attachment; flakes or clots means mastitis cows are not detected. Milk filter condition is an evaluation of milker performance when you can’t be in the parlor. Score your filters occasionally and give your milkers the thumbs-up or thumbs-down response.

• Milk plant bacteria counts, especially SPC and coliform counts, can be a direct reflection of milker performance and a monitor of milking procedures that affect milk quality. A very simple, basic explanation of these results gives milkers the thumbs-up or thumbs-down motivation or correction needed when quality comes into question.

• Monitor start-up and stop times. This is simple but an effective monitor when throughput comes into question.

The milking parlor is the heart of your dairy operation. When it works right and is on time, you can schedule everything else around the cow flow to and from the parlor. Milking parlor performance impacts everyone else on the dairy. But when your milkers have a swagger, you have successfully managed your milkers who are, on most dairies, at least 50 percent of your workforce. It clearly pays to manage milkers and create a positive and efficient work routine. PD

Thomas Fuhrmann
DVM
President of Dairy Works

The following article topic also appears in this month’s El Lechero. This article has been written specifically for dairy owners and herdsmen. The article in El Lechero is written for dairy employees.

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