17 August 2001

Simple milking with speed

Committing to milk

production for the long term

meant thinking big for one

Oxon family business.

A 60-point rotary parlour,

which has revolutionised

milking, was the result.

Marianne Curtis reports

SIMPLICITY and speed are the watchwords for a new parlour which has quietly been milking 350 cows in one hour 15 minues, twice a day, since February.

The year-round calving dairy herd, based at Kingston Hill Farm, Abingdon, Oxon, has gradually grown to 400 cows and will number 500 within the next two years, says David Christensen, of Christensen and Partners.

"Running a closed herd means it has taken time to build numbers, particularly as we lost a number of cattle as BSE cohorts. But we now have 150 heifers in the pipeline which will boost numbers as they join the milking herd."

Until February this year, cows were milked through a 24-point herringbone parlour. "The parlour was old and the building it was housed in was falling down. It took two men nine hours/day to milk cows," says Mr Christensen.

"Attracting and retaining quality staff is a problem facing the dairy industry, so working conditions are important and no-one wants to spend nine hours/day milking."

A new parlour was also necessary to meet and exceed current quality assurance and hygiene standards. Having decided to install a new parlour, finding a suitable design was the next challenge. "We chose a rotary design because herringbone parlours lack sufficient output to milk more than 350 cows."

Initially, Mr Christensen considered a 44-point parlour, but on advice from his father and grandfather, the size was increased. "Both said building work done on the farm in the past had never been large enough and that we should go for a 60-point parlour. And once a rotary parlour is built it is impossible to expand it.

"It was a case of trying to think 10-15 years ahead. The average herd size may be much larger by then."

Although with many rotary parlours milking is done from the inside, meaning one person can perform the task, Mr Christensen opted for outside milking. "With a 60-point parlour we needed two operators, so there was nothing to be gained from milking inside. Inside milking can cause problems when there is a hesitant cow because it means climbing outside to get to her."

With the Kingston Hill Farm design, one person herds cows to and from the collecting yard, another attaches clusters and a third removes them. The parlour has no automatic cluster removal or milk meters. "These are unnecessary and dont increase profit," says Mr Christensen.

Visiting farms where parlours had already been installed and advice from ADAS consultant Ian Ohnstad gave clues on what to avoid. "One of the biggest faults was lack of drafting facilities for separating cows out, meaning unnecessary chasing around. Designs which facilitate cow handling mean you are more likely to attend to problems promptly," explains Mr Christensen.

A light, airy building which promoted cow flow, allowing optimum throughput, was also an important consideration. "The collecting yard and race leading to the parlour must be appropriately angled to ensure high cow throughput."

The construction of a Fullwood 60-point rotary parlour and buildings began in June last year. The work was expected to take four months, but the first cows were milked through the parlour on Feb 19 this year.

"Total cost was £350,000, but this covered planning, machinery, building work and architects fees. The cost worked out about 15% higher than the original budget, which isnt too bad. The most important thing was that the job was done properly rather than at minimum cost."

The building housing the parlour is 30m (100ft) wide x 25m (80ft) long, while the collecting yard is 18m (60ft) x 30m (100ft). The return race is 10ft (3m) wide with 12 front opening AI stalls next to it.

"This number and design of AI stalls means minimum time is wasted handling cows when vets are doing pregnancy diagnosis," says Mr Christensen.

A 12,000-litre bulk tank is housed in an adjacent building with fibre glass walls and a plastic ceiling. "This is up to food hygiene standard and there is space for installing another bulk tank when required."

Parlour electricity consumption is similar to before, as milking takes much less time, says Mr Christensen. "Each rotation takes 10-12 minutes, so from walking into the parlour at 3pm, staff can be home within two-and-a-half hours including washing down. Milking another 100 cows would add only 15 minutes to total milking time."

But labour on the 300ha (760-acre) unit will remain the same with Mr Christensen, four dairy staff and one youngstock person. "The new parlour means staff work one-and-a-haf to two hours a day less, meaning they have a better quality of life. Increasing milk yield/cow will also dilute labour costs."

Cows adapted to the parlour in a matter of days and are relaxed and calm at milking, says Mr Christensen. "They fight to get on the platform and back off it easily after milking."

The herd currently averages 8500 litres/cow, or about 4m litres/year. Grass forms the basis of summer diets, but winter forage comprises 80% maize and 20% grass silage.

Soya, rape and compound supply the concentrate portion of the ration which works out at 0.26kg/litre. Rolling average purchased feed cost is 2.9p/litre and home grown forage costs 3.98p/litre.

With yield likely to increase to 4.5m litres/year, Mr Christensen currently faces the dilemma of when to buy more quota. We own two-thirds of our requirement and lease one-third. Although leasing is currently cheap, we cannot afford to rely on it in the long term." &#42

ROTARY PARLOUR

&#8226 Milks 60 cows/12 minutes.

&#8226 Calm, relaxed cows.

&#8226 Cost £350,000.