Milking Parlors and Today’s Technology

Published on Fri, 06/09/2023 - 3:28pm

Milking Parlors and Today’s Technology.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

The dairy industry has made strides in advancing milking systems and making milking shifts  more efficient. Technology is leading the way in changes in parlor systems and management.

Despite these technological developments, there is still a lot of diversity in parlor systems. This is for good reason - buying new  or even updating an established parlor takes an abundance of resources. But just because an operation does not  have the luxury for extensive change,  doesn’t mean it can’t maximize efficiency with the parlor it has.

Parlors through the years
Over the years, parlors have evolved, with a  focus on maintaining both cow welfare and milk quality.

In  the early days, parlor design lined cows head to tail in a “tandem” style system. This evolved to the herringbone configuration that most of us are familiar with. Early designs initially featured cows on  just one side before transitioning to double-sided styles.

From the angle of the stalls to the location of the milker, there have been many evolutions of parlor layout. In the 1930s, rotary or carousel parlors were introduced and have evolved in their own ways. Maura Keller outlined these and other changes in our 2022 article, Parlor Systems Know-How.

As dairies expanded, we saw the rise of rotary parlors that maximize labor and cut down on wait times for  very large groups of cows. The early rotary parlors were high-maintenance divas  not designed for long-term use. These types of systems were also invented in areas where seasonal milking was the primary management style
As we have progressed through the years,parlor styles have changed and maintenance-related issues decreased. We have created equipment better suited to  cows and conditions.

The latest in parlor tech
Farms that want to minimize cost of production, alleviate labor struggles and improve milk quality often look to milking technologies as one of their first options. This makes sense since the parlor is where a lot of make-or-break practices come into play that  contribute to overall herd health or milk quality as well.

Parlor upgrades with full or partial robotics greatly enhance flexibility for the on-farm team.

The daily tasks that need to be completed don’t necessarily change, but the style or management of those changes with technology available may better suit a dairy farm’s team.

Artificial intelligence and “machine vision” (software that interprets data based on video footage and sensors) are becoming quite popular in the dairy realm. Two startups that cater  to parlors specifically include Cattle Care and CattleEye. These companies use simple video cameras to turn daily activity into usable data. CattleEye, for example, can use cattle movement to determine early symptoms of lameness and isolate  cows for hoof treatment. Cattle Care focuses more on employee interactions that can  establish better parlor management and efficiency.

Interestingly, more companies are focused on making better use of parlors rather than constructional changes as they offer opportunities to improve labor use. Another example of this is adding a robotic arm to a  rotary parlor. Rather than relying on human labor, pre- and post-dipping can be automatically done by the robot. Robotics are also being used to help move cattle more smoothly through a rotary or other system.

Evaluating your parlor system
Every so many years, it is advantageous to evaluate your parlor system and determine if it still fits your farm goals, cow goals, and management goals.

In his article, Keller noted that it is paramount for the producer to keep the end goal in mind, whether that is being more efficient or improving opportunities for the farm’s future. The producer should also evaluate whether the current facilities allow for advancement.

Among the most impactful considerations are whether the improvements will decrease labor requirements during milking and be reliable for years to come.

Parlor evaluation needs to also take into account the  future of the dairy and the tough issues associated with it, including labor, costs and  future decision makers. Consider  the realities of the infrastructure in place and how it might need to be modified to fit parlor system changes.

The big picture
Parlor offerings available to dairy farmers will not be going away anytime soon. With the rise of agtech, robotics and farm software, some of these developments will be but flashes in the pan and unable to withstand the test of time…or the unique needs of your dairy. Others could reap huge dividends.

As with all other farm developments, pay attention to what is happening and what herds like yours are doing. In many cases, it is possible to do a trial run with certain products before fully committing and implementing them into your farm’s full-time strategy. You should also involve the next generation and current managers/supervisors in these discussions as they will be involved with the equipment on a daily basis.

Remember that the purpose of parlor systems is not only to be efficient but also fit the needs of the cow. Maintaining her welfare is just as important as good management and quality milk. Don’t sacrifice her needs in the name of modernization.

Hal F. Schulte III saad well in his bulletin for Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine titled Parlor Efficiency: Time is Money:

“Some dairies that are intent on get­ting as many cows through their parlors in the shortest amount of time willingly sacrifice udder prep. By doing that, they threaten milk quality. Good milk quality depends on excellent udder prep which takes time.”

In the end, be sure you see the forest for the trees.