Big investment fully justified by results
Spending £150,000 on a new
parlour installation requires
significant justification, but
that is just what one
Staffordshire milk producer
has done. Peter Hill reports
STRIVING for greater milk production, improved hygiene standards and better herd management meant it was time for Staffordshire milk producer J S Madders & Sons to bite the bullet and go all out for a new parlour installation.
Not just any old parlour though, they chose Alfa-Lavals latest Maestro E milking point cabinet unit, a system using fully automated controls and management functions, the latter via Alfas Alpro Management system.
"The herd had grown during the past few years to about 320 cows, and milking times with two people had increased to about four-and-a-half hours at either end of the day," says Robert Madders. "It was too slow, stressful on the animals and using a parlour which was first installed in 1969, we knew there were considerable hygiene improvements that needed to be made.
"My sons Mark and James and my daughter, Sue, were the ones who convinced me the farm should reinvest and continue in milk production, so we put a long-term plan into place," says Mr Madders.
Having been in milk production since 1941 at the 238ha (590-acre) Lower Hanyards Farm, Tixall, Staffs, the Madders had some clear ideas of what they wanted in a new installation. And as users of Alfa-Laval equipment, it meant the new Maestro E system was the prime consideration to replace the almost 30-year-old parlour, but physical constraints were already in place. "We were looking at a 32-32 to replace the existing 20-20 set-up, but it had to be installed in the existing building. And we could not widen the building, only lengthen it," he says.
To avoid having too much running up and down the parlours pit, the Madders opted for a 50í herring-bone design to get the cows bunched in a little tighter.
"My daughter joked that we should milk on roller skates, but the parlour is only about 10ft longer now."
Having mapped out the ideas in the farm office, the next struggle was how to carry on milking over the estimated 10-week period required to gut the parlour, structurally improve the building then install and test the new equipment. "As luck would have it, a neighbour had just got out of milk and offered us the use of his parlour. It just meant an extended walk for the cows, which we compensated for with extra cake at the parlour," he says.
"At the same time, we dried off about 50 cows and had another 50 taken out of the herd completely, so numbers were down to a more manageable 200 cows."
In July 1997, the demolition team moved in and gutted the parlour. Then the building was extended and construction work began on a new pit area. All that remained from the existing equipment was a recently installed bulk tank.
"Prior to main parlour installation work beginning, the building was given a fibreglass coating to make the walls easy to clean and give the building a bright, clean feel," he says.
With the new parlour complete and fully operational by September 1997, the Madders are now totally at ease with their investment.
"Milking times are down to around two to two-and-a-half hours, and by weeding out the slow, poor milkers, we hope to significantly improve herd efficiency over the next few years," explains son Mark.
"All we have to do in the parlour is put the clusters on, so the new system gives more time to watch the cows.
"We did not know what to expect when we first brought the cows into the new parlour, but looking back, it was uneventful and business as usual. The cows do not seem to mind wearing transponders for the automated feeding system."
But it is the Alpro Management system which Mark Madders has considerable praise for.
"It lets us keep an eye on every cow, from feeding data, daily milking information, breeding cycle times, even data on each feeding station and the amount of cake remaining in the bulk bin. It really is a case of big brother watching. Although we are still learning the Alpro system and perhaps only use it to about 60% of its capacity, it has become an essential management tool."
Alan Hunt of Dairy Supplies of Uttoxeter who carried out the Alfa installation work at Lower Hanyards Farm reckons the Maestro E cabinet system cuts installation times by up to 35%.
"It is a simpler system to install because the ACR, pulsator and milking point controller all come pre-wired in a stainless steel cabinet; all we have to do is plumb the pieces together."
"Fitting a parlour has always been a time consuming task, but with the Maestro E, we can reduce the level of inconvenience to farmers when they have to find alternative ways to keep on milking while the new parlour is being assembled," he says. *
• Quick installation.
• More efficient.
• Detailed information.
Mark and Sue Madders say milking time for their 320 cows is now down to between two and two-and-a-half hours at Lower Hanyards Farm.
The 50í herringbone design in the new parlour helps to bunch the cows a little tighter together, reducing legwork at milking time.