Floater proves its worth
By Jeremy Hunt
TWO years after installing the UKs first floating parlour Cumbria dairy farmer Jim Dent and his son Michael have "no regrets".
"Its been all that we hoped and more besides. A real success, great for the cowman and the cows," says Michael Dent.
The family runs 130 pedigree Holsteins at Catterlen Hall, near Penrith. The 20-stall Rotaflo parlour carries 72t of cows and equipment on just 250mm (10in) of water. The complete set-up is driven by a half-horsepower motor.
It was almost a case of the sublime to the ridiculous when the Dent family decided to pull out a 30-year-old parlour and replace it with a state-of-the-art system never before installed on a UK dairy farm.
One criteria that had to be met by whichever parlour was chosen was that cows had to be milked through the back legs and not from the side. Jim Dent had been impressed by the floating parlours he had seen in the USA but was adamant that his layout must enable cows to be milked through the back legs.
Designed specifically to meet these individual requirements and to allow cows to step on and off the moving platform without having to undertake any complicated back-stepping – which is necessary on some layouts – the Rotaflo at Catterlen Hall milks 130 cows in about one hour with one man.
Floating on 27,000 litres (6000gal) of water, the parlour-platform has an eight minute milking cycle which has cut milking time by half. When it was installed two years ago by James Duke Dairy Systems, Chichester, sceptics drew comparisons with the worst days of rotary parlours and cited the expense of repairs to rollers and bearings.
Mr Duke promised "trouble free" milking. His pledge has been fulfilled and Messrs Dent report no problems despite the vast size of the operation.
The flotation principle, which allows heavy objects to be moved on water using very little power, has been well proven in this situation which, were it even larger, could milk 200 cows in one hour.
Now the Catterlen herd is being milked three times a day but the extra workload has not created any additional maintenance to the Rotaflo. The parlour area takes up 14m x 12m (45ft x 40ft) at one end of a new cubicle building.
Cows wear transponders which open the gate of the identification stall and move animals from the collecting yard in readiness for stepping on to the moving platform. The transponder activates the feed rate for the cow in the stall, delivers it on to the feed box in the milking stall and as the platform moves around the cow steps forward and turns slightly to take up her position facing outwards from the centre of the circular arrangement.
As one cow steps on the platform another steps off in a sequence that is impressive in its simplicity, although the cowman does have complete control and can stop and start the movement to cater for cows that may take longer then the eight-minute "circular tour". Once in position the cowman attaches the cluster. There is no pre-milking attention given to the udder.
"Cows adapted quickly and heifers seem to take to it with no problem. We never use a kick-bar," says Michael Dent.
Although other floating parlours have been installed in the UK over the last two years – Mr Duke reckons there are now 10 in operation costing around £2500 per milking point – the Dents believe their adaptations have been well worth while.
"Other systems have the cows milked from the outside of the circle which takes two men to do it. Our aim was to keep it to one man and by positioning him in the centre give him maximum control of all the cows which surround him.
"The way the cows have to step on and make a slight turn to take up the position as a segment of the circle has not proved difficult at all, even for heifers." *