Choose your milking parlour with care

For most dairy farmers the milking parlour is their place of business for at least half of each working day – typically four hours – so no wonder many want to improve throughput or reduce time allocated to milking.

But altering a parlour is not a step to be taken lightly.

Just like selecting any item of machinery, the choice can have implications for unit output and profitability, warn suppliers.

It’s suggested the main reasons for altering milking equipment is a desire to either reduce overheads, in particular labour costs, or to simply spend less time tied to the parlour itself.

But extending or changing the layout of parlours can require high capital investment, as more often than not existing building and parlour layout may need to be altered.

Others may see updating equipment as a route to improved efficiency (see Dairy equipment in Marketplace and on FWi).

Just like any machinery, parlour equipment requires regular maintenance.

For example, a leading national parlour testing company reckons a unit operating four hours daily would equate to driving a car 90,000 miles per annum in equivalent time.

And in that period a car would, likely or not, require up to eight services.

As a yardstick, parlour maintenance should also be frequent, depending on hours used or time between services, although the main stipulation is the need for an annual parlour check as outlined in dairy farm assurance rules; don’t forget this is a minimum requirement and there are no penalties for exceeding it.

When sourcing new or used equipment direct from suppliers, classified ads or on-farm sales (a number of parlours from rapid exit, robotic to herringbone are offered on a week-by-week basis) it’s important to get one thing right:

Once installed, and before any cow is milked, get the parlour checked by a specialist.

Defective or improperly installed equipment can have an immediate and long-term impact on both milking performance and – more importantly – cow health.

As well as possibly prolonging milking times, the increased risk of teat damage from too high vacuum, faulty pulsation and ill-fitting teat cup liners can increase risks mastitis in a herd.

The impact on cow health, milk quality and milk buyers’ payments could usurp any steps taken to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Suppliers are keen to flag up the risks of using faulty equipment.

Ensure equipment to be used, whether new or second-hand, is installed by a suitably competent and qualified technician. And get it checked.

Remember, just like buying a used vehicle, service records and other data such as herd health records can help determine whether particular parlour kit is fit for your purpose.

Time spent selecting, installing and checking equipment will pay dividends, ultimately helping achieve the goal of improving parlour efficiency without increasing the risks to herd health.

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