NO-FRILLS MILK HARVESTER
Improving milking efficiency does not necessarily mean ever more complex equipment. Robert Davies visits a new "no frills" parlour that has cut milking time by more than half.
DAIRY herd manager Justin Rees describes the facilities used to milk 400 cows on a Welsh border farm as a milk harvester, rather than a parlour.
"We wanted a set-up that was fast, efficient and economical, with none of the expensive gadgetry seen on so many farms," Mr Rees says. "Fancy bells and whistles are expensive to buy and maintain. We have no jars, feeders or automatic cluster removal, just a 60-cow, 30-unit milk harvester."
The £55,000 installation was chosen after five months of farm visits that took Mr Rees, and his employer Bill Davies, to units as far apart as Dorset and Dumfries. It replaced a direct to line 30:30 herringbone at Knill Farm, Presteigne, that had done around 55,000 hours of work. Before the change it took a total of 12 hours/day to milk almost 400 milkers three times.
Now it takes about five hours/day to milk 359 cows in two sessions. Individual cow yields have not been reduced with the ending of three-times-a-day milking. Incidence of mastitis has not increased, bacterial counts are excellent, and the cows appear less stressed.
"We chose Dairymaster equipment after seeing the good TBC and mastitis figures on some units where it was used with highly stressed cows. It was fair to assume that we would get even better results with our cow welfare standards. Operating the set-up with one man, cows are often overmilked, but without any sign of discomfort.
"The use of tapered liners and reduced vacuum has eliminated liner slip. Clinical mastitis is very rare, the cell count is around 153,000, and we are consistently in Band A."
Cow stress has been reduced by the installation of a unique foldaway breast rail designed by Mr Davies and his herd manager. The rail is adjustable and can be moved closer to the wall as breeding increases the average length of the cows. Using compressed air, it can also be moved to lie flush with the wall as cows leave the building.
"This eliminates most of the bumping and banging that can occur when 30 cows have to move crabwise to get out. We have also modified the collecting yard to improve the cow circulation through the system. Dairymaster said we could milk 2,500 litres/ hour and we just about achieve it."
The Knill herd, which was established in 1979 when Mr Davies took over from his father, had a rolling average in January of 6510 litres/cow. The margin/litre was 18.15p, but, with a stocking rate of 3.1 livestock units/ha, Mr Reess yardstick of success is the £3600 margin over feed and fertiliser/ha.
"This is not an ideal dairy farm. It is on the edge of the Radnor Forest and 32ha of 202ha (80 acres of 500 acres) are over 300m (1000ft) above sea level. It is split up by a number of roads and is not a favourable farm for grazing. The cows only go out in late lactation and when not lactating. We pay much attention to foot care."
Feeding is based mainly on the 3500t of maize silage and 1500t of grass silage made every year. This is mixed in a complete feed with fishmeal, beet pulp, a high energy pre-mix and minerals. Whole-crop wheat is also used, but the type of farm and high stocking rate mean that total purchased feed bills are fairly high.
The herd was founded on "functionally sound black-and-whites from many sources" and graded up. Production was boosted in 1993 when 100 in-calf females were imported from Holland, France and Germany. Breeding policy now aims to continue improving yields, milk quality and longevity. Currently butterfat averages 3.90% and protein 3.39%.
Mr Rees believes some ground may have been lost by a policy of putting heifers to easy calving bulls, rather than the best available, and that potential calving problems can be minimised by good management.
"We want economic yields from healthy cows that are not too stressed, and I believe that our no frills milk harvester is the best way of extracting that milk." *
• Milking times halved to five hours a day.
• Cell counts down to 150,000 and TBCs in Band A.
• Improved cow flow has reduced stress.
Justin Rees, manager of the Knill herd, refers to his new parlour as a milk harvester. It has no jars, feeders or expensive gadgetry.
A batch of 30 cows gets a dry wipe before clusters go on. Bacterial counts are excellent, and cows are less stressed than they were in the old parlour.
Above: The farm designed breast rail is easy to adjust for larger cows as the breeding programme develops. Its another stress reliever.
Below: The rail folds away, activated by compressed air, so that each batch of cows can leave the parlour without fuss and bumping.