29 May 1998

Rotary parlour saves time

By Ian Marshall

WALK through the old parlour into the new one at D Goodwin and Sons Hill House Farm, Lindfield, West Sussex, and you take a quantum leap in milking machine tech-nology.

The old is a 12/12 herringbone installed in 1978; the new a 32-standing Westfalia Autorotor rotary parlour which came on stream last December.

Not only has the parlour saved five man hours/day, it has also allowed better management of the herd and the cows on an individual basis.

The old parlour parlour needed replacing – cow numbers on the Goodwins 110ha (400 acres) had increased from 80 to 220 during the herringbones lifetime. The intention is to expand the herd to 300 by December and to 350 by the millennium. The herds average currently stands at 8500 litres.

"The cows had outgrown the standings and milking was a highly labour-intensive job. In the end, the two milkings were taking eight hours a day," says William Goodwin, who runs Hill House Farm with his father Danny and brother James.

A new parlour had to allow one man to handle a large herd. Initially the Goodwins considered a larger herringbone and approached James Duke of James Duke Dairy Systems. He suggested a rotary, which although the most expensive of the designs considered – 20% more than an equivalent rapid exit batch type parlour – it appeared to provide what the Goodwins wanted.

According to Mr Duke, such a system milking 350 cows would equate to an investment of about £500 a cow for the parlour, concreting and services – but not the building itself.

The Autorotor has a rotating circular platform on which there are 10-40 milking points, depending on herd size, laid out in a shallow herringbone pattern. Its platform is driven by two variable speed hydraulic motors and supported on solid nylon caged wheels, which act as a ball race and run on heavy rails.

Use of synthetic materials gets away from one of the main problems on the early rotary designs – the corrosion caused by the steel-to-steel contact of components.

The whole operation is automated and overseen by the herdsman in the operators area in the centre of the carousel.

In action, when a cow comes into the entry race, she is identified through her transponder. Then, when an empty stall is in the right place, she is let out onto the platform and into the standing, whose computerised control box has been loaded with all her relevant information, such as feed requirement. All the herdsman has to do is wash the udder and put the cluster on.

Milking takes place as the platform rotates and each cow is constantly monitored electronically, such as for actual yield against potential.

Cluster removal is automatic when the animal has given a predetermined amount of milk based on its previous weeks output. At the end of a full rotation of the platform, she walks out of the standing and into the dispersal area and her place is taken by the next animal coming in.

Herdsman Nick Clarke says the parlour has turned Hill House Farm on its head.

"The cows took about a week to get used to it," he says. "Now it has cut milking time to three hours a day and given me time to concentrate on the finer points of management needed to improve the herds performance."

Three hours is all it takes to put 22O cows through this rotary parlour.

William Goodwin: "The system allows us to manage a large herd, yet maximise the potential of every cow as it is treated as an individual."