22 November 1996


Need for more time and space – as well as more efficient milking – is behind the new parlour installed at an agricultural college in Berkshire. Peter Hill reports

AFTER 20 years, the 10:10 herringbone parlour at the Berkshire College of Agriculture, Maiden- head, had become inadequate – not only for the requirements of an expanding herd but as a teaching aid at a college where hands-on experience remains a key aspect of agricultural programmes.

"The various limitations of the old parlour all came to a head," recalls farm manager, Bob Waller. "We could not make any more adjustments to accommodate the bigger cows, we wanted to increase herd size, and the cows were yielding more. Milking also took so long that the herdsman had no time to spare to help or guide the students."

As an educational establishment with a long history of farm training, that last aspect was as important to Mr Waller and college principal, Peter Thorn, as any herd-related consideration.

So in April this year the college farms herd of 140 Holstein Friesians went through a new Westfalia 16:16 herringbone for the first time.

NCA/NDA students work two milking and stock duty weeks, in 5am-8am and 1.30pm-5.30pm daily stints. That is repeated with dry stock, and on the calf rearing and pig units. The new parlour has brought out renewed enthusiasm for the milking duty, reckons Mr Waller.

"Some teaching centres seem to be reducing the amount of hands-on, practical experience their students get," he says. "But we think the NCA and NDA students we teach must do practical duties and get hands-on experience to be worth employing. Students on many other courses also gain a lot from this approach.

"The new parlour has created much interest and reflects the policy across all the farm enterprises that if they look tidy, are well equipped and are financially successful, students are more inclined to do their best – it brings out their enthusiasm," he says.

Features of the direct-to-line parlour, designed and installed by James Duke Dairy Systems, include a long, wide pit that gives room for two or more people to work without getting in each others way. Also, a clear space at the far end of the pit – providing room for future expansion – enables students to observe milking practices and routines at close quarters before getting to grips with the process themselves.

Individual controls at each standing allow students to milk manually to ensure they get a thorough grounding in basic milking practice before progressing to increased levels of automation and sophistication.

This includes drawing on data from the computer-based herd management system which allows yield recording at each milking and daily adjustment of feed rations – an invaluable feature, says herdsman Richard Houghton.

"This feature, along with the more accurate feeders, has resulted in a 21% drop in the amount of cake fed a litre, which makes a significant cost saving," he says.

The management system can also be programmed with the usual highlights such as significant individual cow yield variation, mastitis detection and vet/medical warnings. Lactation curves and daily earnings in relation to fixed and variable costs are also calculated, giving the herd managers comprehensive data on which to base decisions, and for many students the first chance to see in a practical setting the way such systems can help optimise performance.

Parlour hardware includes Westfalia Stimulor silicon liners. This soft, pliable material is said to be more comfortable on the teat, while the seal that results from the ultra-smooth interior surface allows lower than normal vacuum settings. The non-porous material should also help prevent mastitis transmission.

"We tried two for a couple of weeks and the difference was noticeable, especially on heifers," says Mr Houghton. "They are obviously gentler yet they also milk as much as 10 minutes quicker."

In the dairy, an 8500-litre (1870gal) Fabdec direct expansion bulk tank has sufficient capacity for alternate-day collection, a recirculation pre-cooling system with water passing through an ice maker and plate cooler. Costs are reckoned to be 60% down on the old tank cooling system.

A pasteuriser has been installed in an adjoining area so that milk can be supplied to the college catering facility, and with the whole complex housed in an existing building, space has been found for a holding area, handling race and AI stalls – the latter providing another teaching facility to add to the course portfolio – herdsmans office and a viewing gallery for the many school and public visits that the college hosts.

With funding of establishments like the Berkshire College of Agriculture now much more dependent on their own enterprise, improvements in the performance of the herd have been essential to pay for as well as justify the new facilities. This has been achieved by building numbers and improving the genetic base to obtain more yield and better milk quality, while introducing complete diet feeding as a means of improving the feed/ yield ratio.

Herd numbers have climbed from just 120 to 140 so far but average yield has been increased from 5200 to 7200 in just five years. Improved milking and management efficiency will help make further gains in herd profitability.n

The new 16:16 herringbone at Berkshire College of Agriculture includes a long, wide pit that gives two or more students room to work without getting in each others way.

Herdsman Richard Houghton can keep an eye on the students milking techniques from the viewing gallery above the new parlour.



&#8226 21% drop in cake fed.

&#8226 Daily yield recording.

&#8226 Easier working place for college students.


&#8226 16:16 direct-to-line.

&#8226 Computer-based recording.

&#8226 Silicon liners.