Dairy farmers with milking parlors built in the 1970s and 1980s need new facilities to improve milking efficiency. However, a new milk barn can cost from $125,000 to $300,000.

Joe Horner has a money-saving idea for small producers who want to upgrade and stay in business another 10 years or more. “Retrofit instead of replace,” said the University of Missouri Extension dairy specialist with the Commercial Agriculture program.

“The most frequent call I get is, ‘How can I afford to upgrade my milking parlor?’ The challenge is to modernize parlors to improve labor efficiency without taking on too much debt,” Horner said.

He recommends ripping out the old stalls in the once popular four-cows-on-a-side herringbone barns and replacing them with parabone designs that allow one person to milk eight or nine cows on a side in the same size barn.

Parabone milking stalls were brought to Missouri by producers who copied the milking systems used by New Zealand dairy farmers. Instead of cows entering angled stalls and being milked from the side, cows in a parabone line up side-by-side and are milked from between back legs.


“You can use the saved time in a couple of ways,” Horner said.

In a parabone, cows are milked on one side of the parlor all at one time with an overhead milkline that allows milking units to be swung from one side to the other. Meanwhile, unmilked cows on the other side can be prepped for milking.

“You can use the saved time a couple of ways,” Horner said. “You can milk the same number of cows but move them through quicker. That leaves more time for managing cows, farming or for family and community, or you can increase the number of cows milked and improve income.”

“Typical cost of renovating is about $15,000,” he said. “Actual costs depend on how much change is to be made. I’ve seen costs range from $3,000 to $30,000.”

“With labor saving alone the payback time can be under three years,” Horner said.

Renovation assumes the current barn is not a total wreck, he said. And the parlor must be big enough to accommodate the new design. An 18-foot wide inside width is the absolute minimum, but a 20-foot width is preferred. A 7-foot ceiling is also needed.

The low cost renovation appeals to many producers who don’t want to take on a big debt that will take a long time to pay back.

“Producers thinking about retiring in another 10 years can extend the life of their dairy, make work easier and not increase debt a great deal,” he noted. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request.

—From Missouri Commercial Agriculture News, Summer 2006

Dick Lee, Communications Consultant, Commercial Agriculture Program, University of Missouri