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New Technology: Train them to milk online first

Published on 21 September 2009

Wisconsin dairy management consultant Tom Wall developed his newest way to train Hispanic workers about milking protocols while sitting behind the wheel of his car and driving between road trip appointments in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“I just realized I’ve got to find a better way to get to more dairies in the same amount of time,” Wall says. “I don’t think this will ever replace live training. But I can talk all day about milking protocols and never really create the instant image that animation can.”

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Wall’s DairyInteractive.com, a milker training program available online for per-pay download, launched in mid-August. The bilingual software program simulates a full milking shift routine using video game animation technology to teach new or existing employees about a dairy’s parlor protocols.

Wall launched the site with a free 10-day trial download option for dairy producers. The software sells for $1,895. The day after the initial launch the site crashed due to the overwhelming number of visits.

“It was a good surprise,” Wall says. “Around 10 a.m. the website crashed because of the number of free downloads that were taken. We had to quickly acquire more bandwidth to get the site back online.”

Wall says most of the users who downloaded a free trial have not purchased a full license to the product yet. But from many who have used it he has heard positive feedback.

“This is one way to get all of the milking parlor variables – dipping, stripping, etc. – on one screen,” Blue Royal Farms Manager Brian Staudinger says.

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Staudinger recently entered in parlor protocols for his 1,400-cow Wisconsin dairy’s two parlors – a double-16 parallel and a double-8 herringbone. He was skeptical at first, but after training a new employee with the software, he says he was most impressed by the overhead and close-up perspectives the software offers of the parlor.

After an hour of training, Staudinger says the employee commented: “It’s just the same routine over and over again.”

“I wonder how long it would have taken him actually in the parlor to have picked up on that?” Staudinger says. “Getting the point about consistency across is difficult.”

Staudinger says the new software would be of particular benefit for new employees who have never been exposed to a parlor routine and for managers who might be considering a change in protocol. The user interface makes it easy to see how the timing of a routine would change if altering protocols.

“Ideally, the next time we have a new employee he or she can come in, sit down and watch and then be ready to go in the parlor an hour later,” Staudinger says.

Producers who purchase the software download it to their desktop computer. One purchased license enables one computer to use the software. However, that one licensed computer could have as many as 100 user profiles. Once installed the software does not require an Internet connection to operate.

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A training session lasts between 30 minutes to an hour. During that time, the employee being trained will watch and participate in a simulated parlor protocol at least 16 times, including every detailed step from strip, dip, wipe, attach to detach and post-dip. Wall says the consistency of watching the computer simulate the correct procedure is what makes the training effective.

“In one hour they will typically watch four turns in the parlor,” Wall says. “Repetition breeds consistency. They are not going to be learning bad habits on Day 1. All they will be learning is how it is done correctly.”

The training modules do have some current limitations, although Wall says he hopes to address them in future updates. The program currently trains with ideal milking procedures and does not simulate random cow behavior, such as kicking off a unit, or occasional equipment problems, such as a squawking unit.

It can also only simulate a milking shift for a double-4 to double-24 parallel parlor. For producers with a larger parlor, Wall suggests dividing the size of parlor in half and choosing the closest even-numbered multiple module available. A rotary parlor simulation is not currently available.

Wall says the software is currently optimized to train workers milking on a dairy with 300 to 1,200 cows. The program, which has been in development for nearly nine months, supports English and Spanish training – although in the future, Wall says it could support more languages such as Russian, for example.

“The other group being employed by dairies in the U.S. are Russian immigrants,” Wall says. “Instead of having to go to Russia and learn Russian and its culture, we’ll just update the software for the producer. As the needs arise, that is how we are going to grow.”

Wall suggests his current clients use the training as the first stage of their new milker training.

“Before actually being thrown into the parlor and being baptized by fire, a worker would sit down and watch the animations before putting gloves on and prepping cows,” Wall says.

“Also, I see this as a training tool that as milk quality issues arise or when someone needs a refresher you could ask them to come in an hour before their shift starts to watch the training again.”

Wall acknowledges that dairy producers’ comfort level with technology will be the first barrier to widespread use.

“The greatest opportunity is beyond what we are looking at now, being able to train throughout the entire dairy, not just in the parlor. The real opportunities lie ahead,” Wall says. Wall intends to continue to consult with his clients on-farm and in-person. He says he doesn’t see this computer training ever replacing what he does one-on-one with milkers in a parlor.

“I have my own limitations in teaching and training just as animation does in connecting with a person,” Wall says. PD

New technology questions
1. Do you have a parallel or herringbone parlor?
2. Do you need to train milkers on parlor protocols in English or Spanish?
3. Do you have a need to train workers on-demand?
4. Are you comfortable using a computer?
5. Does your dairy have a newer computer, one built after 2007?
6. Do you have headphones or external speakers for your computer?
7. Does your farm have Internet access to download the software to the computer that will be used for training?
8. Are you comfortable purchasing and downloading software from the Internet?
9. Do you have your parlor protocols and routines written down and review them frequently?
10. Does frequent turnover create the need for training?

If you answered yes to seven or more of these questions, this technology may be one for you to consider.

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