Parlor Systems Know-How

Published on Thu, 06/09/2022 - 10:49am

Parlor Systems Know-How.

 By Maura Keller.

 Today’s parlor systems speak volumes about the technological advancements that continually take hold of the dairy industry. In fact, the evolution of milking parlor systems has revolved around increases in cow throughput and efficiency.

Parlors started out as “tandem” type systems where cows stood head to rear and they were milked from the side, similar to a stanchion barn. As Lynn Tjaden, dairy solutions manager at Boumatic explains, parlors eventually evolved into a herringbone style, where one could still milk from the side and then into two sided versions, left and right.

“Parlors then evolved into parallel style where the cow was milked from the rear, between the two legs. Parallel parlors, and milking from the rear, has totally dominated the parlor milking systems due to safety, milkability and cow throughput efficiencies,” Tjaden says.

According to Patrick Wiltzius, milking systems development manager, Market Area North America, DeLaval, Inc., over the years, dairy farmers have increased herd size, shifting the need to bring the milking unit to the cow (like in tie-stall systems), to bringing the cow to the unit with small-batch parlors. As herd sizes continued to grow and expand, batch parlors started to become larger and the need for greater efficiencies in milking led to the introduction of smaller rotary parlors.

“With an increasing number of cows per farm, larger rotaries started to replace large-batch parlor systems due to the high throughput of the rotary with minimal labor requirements,” Wiltzius says.
Indeed, advancements today include larger and faster rotary systems, and innovations in herd management software and data processing. As Wiltzius explains, these data systems give producers the ability to quickly make herd health decisions based on information recently collected during an individual cow or a group of cows’ time in the parlor.

In addition, advancements include operator safety, ergonomics, cow safety and comfort, cow throughput and cow flow advancements.

“Those have come to be presented in the parlors with features like rapid exit and index positioning,” Tjaden says. Other milking system improvements have come about through the development of basement systems and equipment improvements.

Aaron Oughton, product manager at Boumatic adds that with the increasing herd size on today’s dairies, throughput and efficiencies are a “must have,” especially considering today’s labor challenges. Rotaries couple milking between the rear legs with continuous cow flow onto a rotating milking platform.

“The cow movement is largely automated, and the operator can dedicate their focus to the milking operation,” Oughton says. “Rotary milking systems are among the most efficient and cost-effective solutions.”

In addition, automation systems that provide insights to the dairymen have become an industry standard, allowing the dairymen valuable information on the KPIs of his herd and operation.  

“Today’s generation of dairymen are tech savvy,” Oughton says. “Real-time notifications have also become a ‘must have’ as new systems and technology evolve for the parlor and operation in general.”

Considerations To Make
When evaluating parlor systems, it all comes down to the producer’s end goal. Wiltzius recommends producers ask themselves the following:
• Are they looking simply to become more efficient with the cows they have due to limitations in infrastructure or land base? Or, do they plan to add cows over the coming years?
• What is the family’s plan for the dairy – who is coming back to the farm and who is looking at other adventures elsewhere?
• What existing facilities do they have to work with? It is important to remember that a new parlor does not always mean a new greenfield site. It is possible that a new parallel or rotary parlor could fit somewhere within the existing free stalls.  
“The first thing to look for in a parlor system is features that decrease the labor requirements during the milking process,” Wiltzius says. “A milking system that can replace a labor unit usually offers a quick return on investment and can reduce long-term overhead costs.”
The second thing to look for would be reliability. With many systems optimized to milk cows nearly around the clock, a reliable milking system will minimize long-term headaches and decrease downtime.
“Once you get behind in milking cows, it is very difficult to catch up,” Wiltzius says.

 Another consideration to think about when upgrading your milking system is how you foresee making improvements to your equipment. Are you planning to update your facilities in steps, such as using basic take-offs or automation and then eventually upgrade to herd management systems? Ask yourself, how easily can this be done in the future?

 And depending upon whether a producer can build all new, as in a green-site or if a producer is trying to shoehorn a parlor into existing facilities, will have a huge impact on just how to approach a parlor installation. Boumatic’s dealer network, for example, has spent a lot of time working with various parlor installations and are adept at figuring out the best solution to strike the perfect balance between budget constraints, facility usage, cow comfort, operator comfort, etc.  

“It’s extremely important that producers evaluate their operation when considering a large purchase or strategic move for their dairy. They must ask themselves: Where do I see the farm in five years, 10 years, etc.? Who will be running the equipment today, or in five years or 10 years?  Do I plan to grow the farm or stay the same size?,” Oughton says. Since many of these strategic investment decisions are costly, it is important to size with tomorrow in mind. In the end, you may ultimately choose to size a new system for today with expandability options for the future.

Lucky Peacock at PBI Parlor Systems adds that cows have become larger than they used to be so compensating for the larger cow needed to be addressed in today’s parlor systems. The need to be able to handle the bigger cows, be faster and more streamlined, and have the strength and reliability of the stalls to withstand years of milking.

“Strength and longevity along with ease of use and availability of replacement parts when needed is  important when determining the best parlor system,” Peacock says.

Effective Use of Parlor Systems
As with any technology, there are certain strategies that make the ‘best use’ of parlor systems in terms of productivity and efficiency.   

Wiltzius says keeping the parlor full and optimizing the milking time are solid strategies for best use. The more cows you can get through your parlor, the greater the payback.

“Additionally, group sizing for batch parlors is key. Many batch parlor stalls use a fixed neck rail where all cows on one side exit at the same time,” Wiltzius says. If a group is not correctly sized for the parlor, one side of the parlor may not be full and the groups would end up getting mixed.  

Also remember that it is important to keep the parlor a calm environment for the cows. Loud noises and human interactions when cows enter the parlor increase their stress level and may make them hesitant to enter the parlor in the future.

“The calmer the milking environment, the easier the cows will load, the faster they will milk out, and the sooner you can get the next cow or group in the milk stalls,” Wiltzius says.

Also, when selecting a parlor system, Oughton says it’s important to note that virtually every product produced has an intended usage frequency. Keep reputation and quality in mind as well.  

“Vet the equipment to the usage intent, frequency and goals of your operation,” Oughton says. “There are varying degrees of light versus heavy-duty systems on the market and price can reflect that.”  For example, if you are a 24/7 operation, purchasing a light duty rotary or stall system may not be the correct fit for you, even though it comes at an attractive price.  

Maintenance costs and reliability could become a concern in a few short years. However, for the dairyman who only milks eight hours per day, that lighter duty product may be completely adequate.

“In the end, organized parlor flow and good management go a long way in getting the most out of your stalls,” Peacock says.

Looking Ahead  
What does the future hold for the use of parlor systems within the dairy industry? Wilzius’ intuition is producers will move to various sizes of rotaries. Smaller batch parlors will be replaced with small rotaries, and larger sites will continue to move toward larger rotaries.

Tjaden says the dairy industry will certainly see advancements in the ability to capture and disseminate cow information. “Our dairies are constantly trying new and innovative ways to harvest the most milk they can, as quickly and gently as possible, which leads to new ideas, new concepts, new products and so on,” Tjaden says. “So, advancements in the milking center will not slow down, they will only intensify.”

Oughton agrees. He believes the market will see increased focus on rotary parlors in the coming years. Of course, farm labor supply is an issue, globally and costs of operational expenses continue to increase.  

“Smaller family farms need to milk the same number of cows or more, with fewer staff. And an internal rotary would suit them best,” Oughton says. “Large farms will continue to grow larger in herd size, using the same number of staff or fewer. This will lead to more large external rotaries built, whereas these customers previously milked in smaller external rotaries and parallel parlors.”