By being proactive with a maintenance routine, you can prevent breakdowns and help ensure a long, useful equipment life.
Remembering to complete milking parlor maintenance may seem like a chore. Turning maintenance into “routine maintenance” makes it easy to ensure nothing is overlooked. You can time parlor tasks with the timing of other events already happening on your farm and turn your maintenance into monthly, quarterly and biannual checks.
Do you have a milk tester come on a monthly basis? That’s a good time to check the oils system for air lines or air cylinders. Making sure pneumatic systems are oiled helps increase life and usability. It’s also good to check valves, air cylinder seals, detach cylinders, air fittings and crowd gates for any air leaks. This will not only help prevent a possible breakdown but can also prolong the life and lower the stress on the air compressor.
Another good monthly check is the air quality in the air compressor. If the air compressor is blowing poor-quality air full of debris through your system, it can corrode parts and impact proper function. If this breaks down, water and oil can get into air cylinders. Air cylinders are similar to your lungs – any amount of water in the cylinders can cause major malfunctions.
Monthly maintenance checks can be simple and quick, yet they are essential to preventing major breakdowns.
Many farms have a quarterly vet check, and that’s a good reminder to complete some extra parlor maintenance. Everyone knows the importance of cleanliness in a parlor; however, often the post-milking is not as complete or thorough as it could be, allowing dirt to build up over time. Pressure washing the parlor on a quarterly basis not only keeps it looking nice, it’s also an opportunity to look for stress fractures and cracks.
Important areas to evaluate are friction points, such as rollers or bushing points, as well as pivot or slide points. The constant motion these points experience makes them likely to wear down over time. A small crack can become a real problem if an aggressive cow goes through at just the right angle.
Milking parlors are constantly under pressure and abuse from the many cows that pass through daily. It’s important to recognize signs of parlor wear and do a thorough inspection on a quarterly basis.
The most important and complete review should be done on a biannual basis and can be timed with the beginning of spring plantings and at the end of harvest. During this check, you certainly want to look over all of the wear points you evaluate on a monthly and quarterly basis, but need to add a few extra items to the list.
An important area to evaluate on a biannual basis is the exit stalls. Ensure cylinders and bushings are in good working order so they raise and lower properly, allowing a smooth, fast exit. This can also help ensure the exits don’t fail during milking, potentially injuring cows or employees.
Similarly, you’ll want any cables and pulleys to be functioning properly so your exits open evenly. If they are not opening at an even pace, a cow may see her neighbor exiting and attempt to exit before her gate is fully cleared. This could cause the equipment to break or cause the animal to slip and hurt herself.
Another area often overlooked when completing parlor maintenance is not equipment-related but herd-related. Have there been any changes to cow size in the herd? Did you begin more crossbreeding? Have you bought cows that are a different size than the rest of your herd? Has the size of the cows in your herd changed over time?
These kinds of changes can have important implications for your parlor. What once may have functioned as a well-oiled machine to move cows in and out of the milking area may now be too large or too small to safely and efficiently accommodate your cows. If cows are too big for the parlor, they can cause extra wear and stress, leading to an early breakdown of equipment. If your cows are too small for your parlor, they may not stand as easily for milking and can slow down the process or cause injury.
While adjusting the parlor for the size of the cows may not be an easy or quick fix, there are effective and economical options available. It’s important to be aware of cow size issues to plan for future parlor adjustments or make decisions around herd demographics.
Parlor maintenance – time well spent
There are a lot of cliché sayings that come to mind when thinking about milking parlor maintenance. The most fitting is the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” As with anything, spending a little time on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis maintaining your milking parlor will save many headaches down the road, maybe even preventing the Christmas Day breakdown.
If you plan maintenance to be routine maintenance, it becomes a habit. Just remember, when the milk tester is visiting, the vet visits, or it’s the start or end of farming season, grab the checklist and make sure your parlor will be running smoothly today and for many days to come.
PHOTO: Inspect exit stalls on a biannual basis to ensure cylinders and bushings are in good working order and to prevent exits from failing during milking, potentially injuring cows or employees. Photo provided by Austin Turner.
ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Philip Warren.
Austin Turner is with Turner Parlor Stalls.