Today’s Milking Parlor Systems

Published on Wed, 04/07/2021 - 9:15am

Today’s Milking Parlor Systems.

 By Maura Keller.

 For today’s dairy systems, the issues of efficiency, productivity and profitability are top of mind. And one key area that can greatly impact these tenets of successful dairy operations are milking parlor systems.

As Patrick Wiltzius, market solution manager at DeLaval explains, milking parlor systems have evolved over the years, with many systems having started as simple, locally made structures with simple controls. What started out as herringbone or parabone stalls then transitioned to parallel stalls, and are now transitioning to rotaries due to greater labor efficiencies.

“Today’s parlor systems have evolved into their own systems with PLC controls and integration with herd management platforms, allowing for greater efficiencies and throughputs than ever before by allowing the customer to have complete visibility of all that is going on with the parlor system,” Wiltzius says.

Skip Reese, vice president at Dairymaster USA says parlor systems have developed from a place to just milk the cows to a cow side herd management facility with the information at a producer’s fingertips.

“We can now tell individually how much milk she is producing, any deviations in production, conductivity/health alerts, breeding information, milk and wash temperature, heat alerts, sort individual or groups of cows, and feed individually to production in the parlor,” Reese says.

Rotary or carousel parlors have been around since the 1930s. As Bob West, Midwest regional manager at Dairymaster explains, there have been different configurations of how the cow stands on the platform including herringbone style and side opening stalls with the operators standing on the inside of the parlor. There have also been variants of angled stalls as much as 70 degree to a straight 90-degree stall. These traditionally have the operator on the outside of the platform.

Dairymaster offers its Swiftflo Revolver with a 90-degree stall and the operator on the outside.  “We offer a variety of sizes to help the dairy producer milk the right number of cows per hour to fit their needs,” West says. “We have also added different levels of automation to allow the dairy producer to harvest the information they desire—from milk yield indicators, feeding concentrates on the deck for better cow flow, hose support arms with a switch to automatically start the unit by lifting the claw and automated pre and post dip.”

Early rotary parlors were high maintenance as the materials were not designed for long use, especially the roller system.  Some of the first rotary parlors were invented in areas where seasonal milking was the management style. This allowed potentially two months of down time when the cows were dry. This also allowed the maintenance to be done without interfering with milking. Today’s high-use parlors need better performance and less maintenance.  

For example, the new Dairymaster roller design, called Rotaglide, requires no lubrication, is self-adjusting and basically maintenance free. The concrete deck is very durable and quiet and many components are made of stainless steel provide lost-lasting durability.

Currently DeLaval offers the DeLaval Parlor P500 for customers looking at parallel stalls and they offer the DeLaval Heavy Duty Herringbone (HDHB) and the DeLaval HB30 and HB50 for customers looking to make smaller investments with updating their facilities.

“We also have the DeLaval PR3100HD for customers that are interested in rotary parlors,” Wiltzius says. “And we offer facility layout and design support with our in-house design team. This helps the customer to visualize their projects and identify any areas of concern with building or site layouts before they get too far in the process.” in Portales, New Mexico, PBI Parlor Systems is a leading manufacturer of milking stalls and equipment for dairies around the world. Because PBI designs and builds their stalls, using heavy-duty galvanized and stainless steels, they are custom fitted to each producer’s unique requirements. PBI stalls are engineered to be the best solution for maintaining cow safety and dairy efficiency.

Lucky Peacock at PBI Parlor Systems says their company’s goal is to offer streamlined, yet simple parlor systems that don’t require extensive computer technology to operate.

“The simplicity of our systems is key,” Peacock says. “Breakdowns are easy to fix—you don’t need a laptop to do it. When we work with our customers, we tell them to focus on longevity and simplicity when choosing a system.”

The Elite Parallel Stalls are PBI’s signature stalls. They boast a powerful hydraulic cylinder that operates an entire row raising the headstalls to clear the cows. Offered on several different size centers, PBI’s herringbone stalls make it much easier to meet the individual needs of the dairy producer.

Embracing Robotics
In recent years the onset on robotic milking and udder spray technologies have become large considerations for individuals planning a new investment in their dairy operation. Cows in these robotic farms come to the robot placed in their barn to be milked on their own vs. being herded to the parlor for milking, as in conventional dairies.  

“Robotics provide dairymen flexibility in the day to accomplish other tasks, and afford the opportunity to save on some labor expenses,” says Aaron Oughton, product manager, animal environment & refrigeration at BouMatic. “Herd management philosophy also differs with robotics versus conventional. Though the same herd tasks must be accomplished daily, they are done using different means. Daily tasks of robotic dairy producers focus on routine maintenance, robotic herd performance metrics, exceptions, and other farm related tasks.”

BouMatic offers state-of-the-art milking systems using vacuum frequency drives, Optiflo mill transfer systems to gain in cooling efficiencies in conjunction with its Glacier Chill cooling system, and RealTime animal behavior data collection.

“BouMatic works with a very aggressive dealership organization and their focus it so keep their finger on the pulse of their customers’ needs, whether it be milking system efficiency, cow side technique, cooling system efficiencies, cow data collection and software, milk harvest options, parlor system choices such as robotic milking systems, rotary milking systems, conventional parlor systems or simply improvements to their existing dairies,” says Lynn Tjaden dairy solutions manager, system sales at BouMatic.

Jerry Quellhorst, equipment sales specialist at GEA Farm Technologies, says that at GEA offers a full selection of parlor stalls, from conventional parallel and rotary configurations to now fully robotic rotary milking systems along with traditional box-style robotic systems. And, most importantly, they can outfit their parlor selections with fully integrated milking controls and detachers, milk meters, software systems and all required milking and cooling equipment that surrounds a parlor and makes it function.  

“We work with producers well-before ground is broke on a new facility to see what parlor system works best with the farm’s management style and what system fits their growth plan and the future generation on the farm,” Quellhorst says. “We also can work with producers if they simply want to remodel an existing installation to take advantage of newer technology, more comfortable stalls and better milking operator ergonomics. Many times customers are considering using their current parlor and expanding the number of stalls on each side by going from a herringbone style parlor to a parallel style layout. Then, at the same time upgrading to new technology tools in the parlor.”

What To Look For
The best things to look at when evaluating parlor systems include answering the key questions: How will this parlor system best fit your future needs? How will it grow with your operation?

As Wiltzius explains, a parlor system that fits the bill now may end up being a headache when you are looking to expand. As always, think with the end in mind. If your goal is to expand to a specific number of cows in a certain time frame, start at that point and work backwards to today. Identify where you can easily make changes now to make future expansion easier and less painful.  

“Also determine who provides the best support to ensure the performance of your system. Once your parlor is installed, what is the support network to keep it running at its most efficient?” Wiltzius says.

It’s also important to think of your day-to-day activities and ask how the new parlor will fit those activities and how it will meet your goals. As Quellhorst explains, if you are trying to milk more cows or reduce labor or just be more efficient, be sure the changes you want to make are meeting those objectives. For example, using animal monitoring technology can streamline your animal health care efficiency by allowing farm staff to pinpoint items to address with the cows before they become chronic, impacting production, treatment expense, reproduction expense and longevity of the cow.

And while parlors can structurally last a long time, technology is advancing quickly so upgrades with the latest components may be required if the producer wants to take advantage of obtaining more data or monitoring cow health in new ways or simply streamlining milking labor.

“We have worked with customers to add a barn of box style robots in addition to their current conventional parlors which increases cow numbers and production of the farm with minimal labor,” Quellhorst says. “The cows enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, adding to production and more lactations in the herd.”

Mistakes To Avoid
One of the most common mistakes Wiltzius sees producers make as it relates to selecting and purchasing parlor systems is that the parlor area was sized for the near immediate needs, and not five to 10 years or more down the road out.

“When the time comes to add additional stalls, it would require significant construction costs to push the end of the building out to accommodate more milking stalls,” Wiltzius says.

When planning the parlor area, be sure to accommodate for future growth by keeping the end goal in mind.  

“If your goal is to eventually milk “x number of cows,” don’t be afraid to build the parlor area for that number of cows, but only build enough of the milking system to milk the cows you have now or cover your needs in the near future,” Wiltzius says.

Also avoid under sizing the milking support systems. When planning parlor systems, be sure to think about your high groups and where you eventually want to be with milk production. And when planning your milk transport and support system, be sure to account for future milk production growth.

“It is easier to build the extra cooling, vacuum, and receiver capacity in the system now rather than to try and add it when your parlor is at its max,” Wiltzius says.

On the Horizon
The biggest thing that the future holds for milking parlor systems is the potential for automation to deliver efficiency savings on parlors. With robotic technologies becoming more affordable and better adapted to working environments, producers should keep an eye out for technologies which help to decrease their inputs and increase their efficiencies.

“There are companies that have developed automated technologies for pre- and post-applications for rotaries to decrease the amount of labor needed on a rotary,” Wiltzius says. “There are other companies that are working on robotic technologies to reduce labor needs in batch parlors.”

West adds that the trend in the dairy industry is many milk processors want farms that have the capability to fill tankers on their own—eliminating the multiple stops needed to fill the milk truck.  

“I know that is not popular with the smaller farms. Large dairies that are highly efficient incorporating labor efficiency, facility planning along with durable and reliable milking equipment seem to be the future. The trend is large rotary parlors even though some still invest in large parallel parlors. Either way, having the availability of labor to milk cows is very important,” West says.

According to Tjaden in the future, there will be more robotic adaption to conventional systems, faster and easier-to-use data collection, animal health and behavior analysis equipment and equipment that allows dairymen to milk more cows more efficiently.

“Much has been said about milking robots recently, yet BouMatic recognizes there will still be a need for efficient, well managed and technologically suited parlor systems,” Tjaden says. “This means milking systems that are animal and operator friendly, easy to use with data collection equipment for rapid analysis and exceptional identification software. So whether a dairy milks 300 cows or 30,000 cows, we must provide a solution that meets their needs.”