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1808 PD: Improve efficiency and quality with milking-time evaluations

Norm Schuring Published on 09 December 2008

Whether it’s a sudden increase in somatic cell count that has left you puzzled or other events such as increasing herd size that may be jeopardizing parlor efficiency, a milking-time evaluation is one way to assess milking routine and machine function to determine where adjustments can be made.

A milking- time evaluation can help identify inconsistencies in parlor procedures so proper focus can be made to optimize employee procedures and routines, parlor function and the production of quality milk.

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A focused approach for best results
Producers often call for a milking- time evaluation once problems arise – whether it is an increase in somatic cell count, poor parlor throughput or another negative result from a key performance indicator. Rather than take a knee-jerk reaction to an assessment, an important step prior to the evaluation is to focus on both short- and long-term goals. Discuss these goals with the evaluator to give them a better understanding of your operation and what you hope to accomplish in the future. Changes implemented as a result of the milking-time evaluation will ultimately result in the successful completion of goals identified in the planning stages.

Also work with your assessment team to assess any recent changes that could be responsible for a drop in efficiency during the milk-harvest process. For example, has there been an increase in herd size or have recent changes been made in grouping strategies? Have any procedures been changed or new ones implemented? Have there been any changes to the milking staff? Gather the employees’ thoughts on what steps they feel should be taken to optimize the parlor. This is helpful background to share with the representative who will be completing the actual evaluation.

Auditors come to the dairy at milking time and are typically from your local equipment dealership or from a dairy equipment company. During the evaluation the auditor will analyze milking procedures and routines; monitor machine-on times, milk flows and total milk time; as well as check equipment performance and cleanliness. The evaluation also normally includes an inspection of the cows’ environment including the freestall barns and bedding materials. A discussion with employees about training and standard operating procedures provides helpful insight and usually serves as part of the overall evaluation. Information gathered will be used to make recommendations on those areas that need improvement.

The milking-time auditor will generally provide an initial follow-up with the producer immediately after the evaluation – highlighting areas where the dairy excels and offering a few preliminary suggestions for how the dairy can make adjustments. These changes, however, may not be the only recommendations the evaluator has. The full report is usually sent within one to two weeks and incorporates additional details and suggestions for improvements.

Implementing change
starting with people Whatever your reason for performing a milking-time evaluation, and regardless of the recommendations that result, the most challenging and crucial piece of the puzzle is the timely implementation of the agreed-upon recommendations. It is important, and sometimes a bit of a challenge, to ensure that adjustments are enacted quickly and flawlessly – requiring a commitment from everyone involved.

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To get from implementing changes to reaping the rewards of an accomplished goal will involve a few key steps. First and foremost, dairy personnel and assessment team members must be on board and convinced about the importance of implementing the recommended changes.

When it comes to changes in routine, employees can be brought on board through open and consistent communications. Acceptance of this change, and their resulting actions, can directly impact your cows and, ultimately, the profitability of your operation. In addition, when these individuals support change, they are increasingly more likely to commit to accomplishing the goals and communicating successes, as well as identifying and preventing future problems early in their stage of development.

Employees are also considerably more likely to implement changes when they are directly involved in the decision-making process – they can visualize how their input can lead to actual change that impacts the profitability of the operation. This may involve ongoing training sessions and input meetings to keep the staff working together toward a common goal.

One way to make this happen is to share the reasoning behind the change with your employees. For example, if a change is being made to the milking procedure, be sure to show and explain how it should be properly completed. Watch as they complete the task and follow up on any questions or any changes that should be made to their technique. Again, it is critical that you also agree why the change needs to take place, so they too have a better understanding of the bigger picture.

Use your assessment team as a sounding board as changes are implemented. By calling upon your local equipment dealer, nutritionist and veterinarian for their expert opinions you can gather additional insight on how to monitor change and improve the success of implementation. These local experts offer a fresh set of eyes and ears to evaluate your operation, and can be valuable resources for solving problems, as they visit and help multiple herds with an array of issues.

Monitoring the results
Once implemented, it’s also critical to carefully monitor the changes. Monitoring results should be done consistently and often to ensure full uptake of the changes is occurring. The full impact of these changes may take time to see, but should be constantly reviewed for compliance to long- and short-term goals.

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The only way to fully understand how well the change is being implemented is by comparing today’s herd stats with those of previous weeks, months and years. If the implemented change can take effect in just a few short weeks, compare values monthly. If the change is more long-term, compare today’s values with those from a year ago. It’s important to remember that change will not be made overnight; it will take a fully integrated effort to see each step of change is completed.

Ultimately, the dairies that see the most value in a milking evaluation are those willing to commit to changes, working as a team on clearly communicated, focused areas for improvement. By aligning action on recommendations with goals for the dairy, producers and employees can see improved profitability through increased parlor efficiency and higher milk quality. A milking evaluation affords dairy producers the opportunity to identify areas for improvement, resulting in an improved bottom line. PD

Norm Schuring
Vice-President of
Industry Relations - GEA
WestfaliaSurge

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