26 October 2001

Design is

crucial to success

PLANNING the new dairy unit at Kemble Farms carefully on paper should avoid disappointment later and save on running costs.

The design phase should never be underestimated, says Graeme Lochhead, senior consultant with GFA-RACE, the consultancy arm of the Royal Agricultural College. "It is often longer and more intensive than the building phase."

This process should involve staff who will be responsible for operating the unit and starts with the wishes of the client. Kemble Farms had already chosen a Fullwood 36-point rapid exit parlour and wanted a cellar underneath.

The cellar contains all serviceable equipment such as milk meters, pulsators and vacuum lines. This provides a hygienic environment for milk production and reduces noise in the parlour.

Milking parlours are the critical part of the overall unit design, says Mr Lochhead. To optimise cow flow and milking routine, the parlour is fully automated with pedometer identification and automatic cow separation post-milking. Stock management is, therefore, an out-of-parlour activity, so milkers can concentrate on their routine.

This also suits a rapid exit parlour which doesnt allow a full examination of cows. "You just see the back end," he warns.

"Therefore, when planning a unit with this type of parlour, its essential to have facilities to separate cows easily for inspection."

All parlour records are computerised to cut out paperwork. Even calves are tagged electronically and their nutrition managed using automatic feeders, says Mr Ball.

In this project, the parlour accounted for 10% of total costs. The remaining proportion of costs included a bull pen, calving boxes, handling facilities and the housing area. Silage clamps and slurry facilities were already on the site.

"The building is designed on a five-span modular basis with the vision to house 700 cows in the long term. Four sections contain a mixture of cubicle and loose straw yard housing. Having both gives extra flexibility, particularly when housing cows and young stock under the same roof."

Cow-centred design is also important, stresses Mr Lochhead. "The unit was built with an internal passage, wide enough to marshal cows five abreast to the parlour. This improved cow flow minimises cow stress and time spent away from feed, allowing cows to display their natural behaviour."

There are many similar projects which have gone over budget. It is tempting to add an extra parlour feature, resulting in the project becoming uneconomic. "When you start with a budget, you need to finish within it," he adds.

"When trimming costs to avoid going over budget, it is essential not to reduce cow places. Litres of milk produced pays for the new unit; reducing cow numbers will only push up unit costs."

Dairy units should also be designed to help maintain good hygiene, advises Mr Lochhead. The approach adopted is clean to dirty, where dirty areas are placed furthest away from the parlour and the point of entry.

"This avoids unnecessary movements from dirty to clean areas and helps maintain bio-security. This is a food production facility and good hygiene may attract premiums from milk buyers in the future."

Where possible, avoid building a new unit around an existing herd, advises Mr Ball. "At Kemble Farms, selling the herd allowed the site to be bulldozed before construction.

"This allows you to focus on the task instead of juggling milking, silage making, heat detection and building the new unit." &#42

all at the same time."

Kite Consultings John Allen believes re-building a unit while still managing a herd can cause a 1000 litre decline in milk yields. &#42

BUILDING DESIGN

* Cow-centred design.

* Clean to dirty.

* Stick with budget.

BUILDINGDESIGN

&#8226 Cow-centred design.

&#8226 Clean to dirty.

&#8226 Stick with budget.

Cow numbers will reach 575 on the new unit this winter, as cheaper quota has justified a rapid increase in herd size.