By implementing lean principles on their 1,000-cow dairy, Hemdale Farms in Seneca Castle, New York, saw an increase in milk per man per hour from 500 pounds to nearly 800 pounds in the past seven years.

In the same period, Swisslane Dairy in Alto, Michigan, reduced the labor hours in the barn by 65 hours using the same principles.

Lean production techniques, which have been revolutionizing industrial companies and manufacturing operations for 50 years, are an approach to systematically seek ways to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality.

The purpose of lean is not to work harder but to work smarter. Lean is a management philosophy that can have a positive impact for dairies too. The goal is to add value to every single step of the process, not only to cut waste out of every step but also add value and find unused talents of cows and people.

Lely North America has developed a lean module and process to help larger dairies improve efficiencies and quality.


Our Farm Management Support (FMS) team uses this module to train local dairy advisers so they can help dairies reach higher levels of efficiency in producing milk. In the past three years, we have been working with dairy operations to incorporate lean techniques.

One technique is to implement standard operating procedures employees can use that will help with workflow and time management. Standard operating procedures include clear instructions, checkoff lists, observation notes and more.

In addition, the lean process helps owners take a better look at short- and long-term goals and steps on how to best achieve those goals.

Each experience since the first, in January 2013, has helped to develop a blueprint for other dairies.

For example, dairy farms with more than eight robots are becoming more common around the world. Large robot farms require a different approach than smaller robot farms.

A larger setting involves working with the owners, farm management, employees and external stakeholders who help observe each process that takes place.

We work with owners and farm managers to discuss short- and long-range goals and what areas need the most attention. Plus, a proper start-up combined with direct and correct implementation of software tools is of great importance to become a successful, efficient, large robot dairy farm.

During the analysis, our team shadows managers and employees and takes detailed notes about the process and tasks that are undertaken.

Following the observation, the lean team, including barn employees, analyze each step and develop instructions. The revisions include a complete checklist with recommendations for farm managers and employees to implement.

Because the lean process provides added value, cows are more likely to reach their genetic potential. Lean breaks down all parts of an operation – feed, standard operating procedures – and incorporates robotic milking. Dairy operations that have taken part in lean events have found and documented ways to increase efficiencies and procedures for owners and employees.

With lean management projects, we’ve found the focus is 90 percent on cows, feed and people, and 10 percent on equipment. We want dairies to establish a management philosophy with a focus on eliminating waste from process and adding value to process.

At a project at Hemdale Farms, where they are operating 17 robots, the lean team looked at labor costs in comparison to milk production. While still using a parlor system in 2008, Hemdale Farms averaged 500 pounds of milk per man-hour.

In 2012, with the start of robots and incorporating lean principles, they reached an average of 700 pounds of milk per man-hour. With additional increases in efficiency, Hemdale Farms averaged 795 pounds of milk per man per hour in 2014.

Hemdale has been up 13 percent in the last two years due to more cows with the same number of employees and growing efficiencies. They put a labor plan together in flow chart and shifts, and we worked with them to provide insights on how long a task should take.

For Swisslane Dairy, an eight-robot farm, implementing lean saw a reduction in two hours per pen per day or about 65 barn hours per week – despite training new workers. Labor was reduced to 240 hours per week (excluding feed, manure and sand truck) and labor costs reduced $0.20 per hundredweight.

“We save at least five minutes for every cow that needs milk separation and 45 minutes per day for our barn tech,” says Ben Vanderbilt, barn manager of Swisslane Dairy.

Halarda Farms in Manitoba operates 12 robots and says the lean process has helped in the way they look at procedures and tasks through different eyes. They have started to think and work in action lists and not attention lists.

Following lean production techniques is a proven way to help dairy farms take a closer look at their processes to improve efficiency and quality.  PD

Ben Smink is a manager in farm management support with Lely North America. He can be contacted by email.