Looking to get more data from the milking parlor, the owners of Rosy-Lane Holsteins LLC purchased a monitoring system from Afimilk with plans to monitor daily milk weights to watch fresh cows and identify sick cows faster.
They also wanted to use it for somatic cell count information and activity monitoring for heat detection. However, its biggest on-farm advantage came from data they weren’t originally interested in: milking speed.
“It had a big impact on parlor efficiency,” says Lloyd Holterman, who owns the farm along with his wife, Daphne, Tim Strobel and Jordan Matthews in Watertown, Wisconsin.
Right after the system was installed, they noticed the milking speed data and could easily spot variations from cow to cow. At the time, they could barely get 480 cows and a wash system through their double-eight parlor three times a day.
With this new information, they decided to sort the slowest-milking cows into one group. In doing so, they were able to get 625 cows through the parlor three times a day and a wash cycle between each shift, increasing parlor efficiency by 30 percent.
This enabled Rosy-Lane Holsteins to grow the herd faster and bring in more income to help finance an expansion already underway. The addition of a cross-ventilated barn increased the number of milking groups from six to 12. They also added on eight more stalls to make the parlor a double-12 and are now milking 980 cows 3X, washing after every milking, 24 hours a day.
“We’re getting 89,000 pounds of milk from a double-12. That’s a lot of milk per stall in 24 hours,” Holterman says.
Matthews says he prefers this method compared to others he has seen around the country because it allows all cows to be milked out completely. In visiting other farms, he noticed milkers removing machines from slow-milking cows before they are done either because that side of the parlor is set on a timer, or parlor routine dictates it is time to get the next group in.
“Everyone tries to run their parlor to maximum efficiency,” Matthews says. “Our thought was: There’s got to be some in between to make sure cows are 100 percent milked out and still gain some efficiency.”
With the new barn and twice as many pens, they can group more strategically with fast-milking groups, medium-speed groups and a slow-milking group. In addition, they can continue to group by age and productivity.
“We thought, ‘This is kind of nice,’” Matthews says. “We could rearrange cows accordingly and make that parlor swing a little faster.”
Each week with dry-off, cows in high-production groups are shuffled into the now available space in low-production groups, which creates space in the high groups for fresh cows.
They check days in milk and milk production on the fresh cows to know which cows are ready to graduate. Then they check milking speed through the Afimilk system. Cows that milk out in less than four minutes go to the fast group. Those that take seven minutes or more move to the slow group.
Cows that start their lactation milking slow typically do not speed up. However, cows that start fast can slow down, so they will check milking speed again after 150 days in milk.
“We move cows more than most farms, but our parlor needs to stay efficient,” Holterman says.
There is only one slow-milking group on the farm. Holterman acknowledges they probably don’t always have the 72 slowest-milking cows on the farm in this group, but even if they can sort out the 60 slowest cows, it makes a big difference in parlor performance.
It is a mixed-lactation pen with 2-year-olds and older cows together, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem, he says. The slow-milking group is fed a high-production diet. “Some cows don’t justify it, but we don’t want to slow the parlor,” Holterman says.
Sorting by milking speed has also provided a little variation for employees during the milking shift. The slow-milking group is strategically placed to be the first group milked following the wash cycle. The wash cycle only lasts 15 minutes, which is just enough time to wash the cow decks.
During the slow-milking group, when there is eight to nine minutes of unit-on time, employees have time to wash the cabinetry, hallway, windows, pipes and everything in front of the parlor. They usually also have a chance to grab a snack to fuel up before the next pens that come in.
“After the slow milking, it’s two fast-milking pens, and that’s the marathon,” Matthews says. “In the fastest groups, they can hardly keep up. By the time they are done prepping one side, on the other side all of the units are off.”
After those three groups, the rest are fairly consistent as medium-milking-speed groups.
Holterman says he’s noticed the slow-milking group tends to have low somatic cell counts, although the fast-milking cows are not much higher.
While he admits he hasn’t followed it too closely, he hasn’t seen a noticeable genetic trend in that daughters from slow-milking dams don’t always end up as slow-milking cows themselves.
In sorting the slower cows into a separate group, Matthews says they were able to improve holding pen time because the parlor isn’t being held up waiting on those one or two cows in each turn.
“The cows can have more access to feed and water, and that’s the end goal,” he says. “The holding pen is a complete waste of time. Anything we can do to decrease the time in there is our goal.”
Using milking speed data to sort cows has allowed the owners of Rosy-Lane Holsteins to increase parlor efficiency by getting the most milk per cow and per stall, thus maximizing their revenue from the farm’s most valuable asset.
PHOTO: Lloyd Holterman uses milking speed data to sort cows and maximize parlor efficiency at Rosy-Lane Holsteins LLC in Watertown, Wisconsin. Photo by Karen Lee.
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