Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Parlor technology improves performance at Daybreak Dairy

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 30 September 2015
Nate Elzinga

From udder health to employee management, the technologies in Daybreak Dairy’s milking parlor are making a difference.

The 250-cow herd at the dairy located in Zeeland, Michigan, takes monitoring to the next level with its milk meters, pedometers and an integrated software management system.



Nate Elzinga, who is a partner in the family farm with his dad and brother, explained how he collects data and puts it to work to improve profitability during the 2015 Precision Dairy Conference held in Rochester, Minnesota, in June.

Collecting cowside data

“It helps you make decisions,” he said, noting that a diverse selection of detailed information is available in real-time, right from his double-eight herringbone parlor.

With a milk meter at each stall, individual cow data is collected at each milking and displayed via a cowside control panel. Elzinga can access daily milk weights to monitor cow performance and milk conductivity as an indicator of udder health. Abnormal conductivity trips a mastitis alert. The system measures flow rates and milk-out times.

The control panel displays alert codes to communicate with the milkers. For example, if a cow has been treated or is dry, the information is entered into the database. When the cow enters the parlor, the unit locks so the worker is not able to attach it to the treated quarter without overriding the code. This technology has proven to be effective at keeping bad milk out of the tank.

“It’s been a long time since we had residue violations,” Elzinga said. Further, if a milker treats a cow or finds mastitis, they can enter a code to identify that cow the next time she comes through the parlor.


The information available not only allows Elzinga to keep tabs on the cows, but he has also found it to be a valuable employee management tool.

“It measures things like button pushes in the parlor, so if somebody is canceling the automatic take-off, it records those,” he explained.

Recently, he noticed a newer employee had some “little quirks” that he was doing that were not part of the milking protocol, and it showed up on here. Cows were not milking out well during his shift, so Elzinga got in the parlor with him, and they worked together for a milking.

“I followed up the next couple of days and it improved,” he stated. “It was a very useful tool.”

milking parlor

Beyond the parlor

Elzinga is able to take the data collected in the milking parlor and combine it with other metrics on his dairy to provide analytics and action items for reproduction, herd health and management decisions.


He uses task lists to set up and track daily treatments, vaccines and breeding schedules. This is helpful in record-keeping and protocol compliance. Corresponding pedometers monitor estrus for activity-based heat detection, and breeding information is entered into the system.

In just a few clicks, he can pull up fertility charts to check on heat detection rate, conception by first service (per days in milk), number of services, breeder and service sire.

Elzinga digs deeper into this wealth of data by customizing calculations in the software program that help him determine which cows are most profitable. He adds in DHIA milk component test information and his milk price, along with estimated feed consumption based on dry matter intake, to determine his income over feed cost per cow.

“I use this to determine who is next to leave the farm,” he added. Other considerations for culling that he tracks include genomics, breed classification score, body condition score and disease carriers, Johnes and leukosis virus in particular.

Elzinga believes that integrating technologies is part of an overall herd improvement strategy.

“The more you can improve your herd with technology, the faster it speeds it up,” he explained. “You have more replacements, you have quicker genetic turnover, you have more involuntary culls, you have extra animals to sell, more production per stall.”

For Elzinga, technology has changed the way he manages his dairy; yet, one basic principle remains the same.

“When you use something like this, it looks like it is going to make your life easy, and it will, but you need to know the cow first,” he said. “Once you know the cow, you understand what you are looking at on the computer screen.”  PD

Visit Vimeo to take a tour of Daybreak Dairy with Nate Elzinga.

PHOTO 1: Nathan Elzinga

PHOTO 2: Daybreak Dairy’s milk monitoring equipment helps Nathan Elzinga examine both his cows and employees. Each stall in the double-eight parlor has a milk meter and a control panel that feeds data into a herd management software program. Photos provided by Nathan Elzinga.

peggy coffeen
  • Peggy Coffeen

  • Editor
  • Progressive Dairyman
  • Email Peggy Coffeen