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Parlor upgrade allows Sunnyside Farms to increase efficiency

Progressive Dairyman Editor Emily Caldwell Published on 30 September 2015
dairy cow teat prep

At Sunnyside Farms in Scipio Center, New York, the focus has always been on growing the herd size but doing so in a cost-efficient way.

The dairy was established in 1939. By the late ’60s, the herd was at 200 cows. Since then, the dairy has expanded progressively with a new barn being added every few years.

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In 2001, the herd had grown to 1,800. Over the next 10 years, Sunnyside went about doubling the herd, which was milked in a double-28 parallel parlor. The parlor then expanded to a double-52.

“We finally felt it was old enough to justify walking away,” says Neil Rejman. Neil farms with his father, Jack, and brother, Greg.

“The older facility was designed for milking 1,100, not 3,000-plus,” Rejman says. “It got to the point where I didn’t enjoy walking into the parlor.”

A 100-stall rotary was built in October 2014 with the main goal of increasing milking efficiency and milk quality.

While the growth has been mostly internal, about 300 cows were purchased and added to the herd within the past six months. On Jan. 1, 2015, the herd went BST-free – in order to comply with standards from Chobani and other customers – and culled 200 cows due to the quick removal of BST.

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rotary parlorThere are now 3,600 cows going through the parlor three times a day.

“We’re operating at about 90 percent efficiency now,” Rejman says. “We’re milking 20 percent more cows with the same labor.”

Though the number of workers per milking stayed the same, the farm roster actually had to increase by two employees for feeding, bedding and other jobs.

Structure in the parlor

In the old parlor, Rejman says employees spent a lot of time moving cows instead of milking. There was a lot of hurrying up to load the cows, then milking, then hurrying up to bring in another load.

Rejman appreciates the continuous flow of the rotary parlor, noting that a cow is loading every six seconds onto the platform to be milked.

The work day of the milkers is down to a science, allowing for a consistent, continuous flow of employee involvement, too.

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It takes six milkers per milking. Each milker works an eight-hour shift. They have an hour break during that eight hours, and they switch stations every 45 minutes. One worker stands at the pre-dip station to dip teats.

Two employees prep the udders; one of those workers wipes the whole teat while the other employee focuses only on teat ends. One employee stands at the quarter-way point of the rotary to attach the milker. One worker post-dips teats and monitors the cows as they exit the rotary.

The sixth worker is a roamer who assures proper unit attachment, loads cows, fetches additional towels or fixes problems along the way. If two people are required, one of the udder prep workers will help the roamer.

“That only happens about 10 or 20 percent of the time,” Rejman says. “We lose a little bit of [milk] quality when we do that, but it helps us stay efficient.”

Managing milk quality in the new facility

While the herd was transitioning from the parlor to the rotary, Rejman saw the herd’s average somatic cell count peak at 350,000.

“We now average about 210,000,” he says.

As far as pathogens, Rejman says they’re mostly battling Streptococcus agalactiae, with few cases of Klebsiella.

tour participants“We work with QMPS [Quality Milk Production Services in New York], and they see an occasional Staph aureus,” Rejman says. “We used to chase it [to cure], but now we choose to ignore it. Chronic cows get culled.”

Rejman attributes most of the gains in milk quality to the rotary and more consistent udder prep, but the farm made another major change that has likely played a factor.

“About the same time we transitioned to the rotary, we started adding lime to stalls,” he says. “I hate making two major changes like that at once. Was it the lime or the better routines and cleaner udders in the new parlor? I think it was a combination.”

The stalls are bedded three times a week with daily grooming. Lime is mixed with the bedding one day before the bedding is added to the stalls.

Plans for the future

For now, Rejman is happy with the size of the herd and the decisions he and his family have made.

“We’ve added a lot of debt in the past two years,” he says. “We spent 6 million dollars on the parlor and 1.5 million dollars to connect buildings around the farm. We invested half a million in updating our manure systems and spent about 4 million dollars to add 600 cows. Right now, we’re just kind of holding our breath and hoping that things keep going well.”  PD

Sunnyside Farms was one of the featured farms on a tour during the National Mastitis Council Regional Meeting in Syracuse, New York, in July.

PHOTO 1: Sunnyside Farms takes a team approach to udder prep, with two employees responsible for wiping and prepping teats.

PHOTO 2: An employee hoses down manure on the deck. Lighting along the rotary itself, rather than just the building, allows employees to ensure clean udders and teats.

PHOTO 3: An observation deck at Sunnyside Farms in New York provided a bird’s eye view of the dairy’s rotary for participants of the National Mastitis Council Regional Meeting farm tour in July. Photos by Emily Caldwell.

Emily Caldwell
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