Across all sectors of the agriculture industry, prices have increased exponentially causing many to feel financially squeezed. Many investment projects are on hold for the foreseeable future, as those funds may need to be reallocated elsewhere to keep day-to-day operations going. As a result of this, dairy producers are being forced to make do with existing equipment and resources, regardless of current condition or age.
While the outlook may appear dismal, the silver lining may be that these difficult times force us to take a hard and honest look at our business’ inefficiencies. If we look hard enough, most of us will find untapped time, resources or opportunities. Dairy operations can increase their existing footprint’s profitability by focusing on labor, product and milking performance efficiencies to optimize what they already have with minimal expenditure.
Rather than reevaluating the more obvious factors like pay scale or number of employees needed per shift, farm managers should be asking, “How can I make my employees’ jobs easier so they can accomplish more work in a shift?” The answer probably is not complicated and most likely revolves around making small changes to the workers’ environment.
Strategies such as providing and stocking a storage area closer to the milking parlor so that milkers don’t need to run far to get more towels, teat dip or replacement parts will reduce time wasted during a milking shift. Another solution to saving time could be as simple as having the cow pusher or herd health person integrated into the milking routine when not busy fulfilling other tasks. An example of this would be having the cow pusher restock the suggested storage area or relieve a milker who needs to step away between moving groups of cows in and out of the parlor. Having these employees fill necessary roles in the parlor can help reduce unproductive time during milking shifts.
On large facilities where the milking center is expansive, it may be beneficial to invest in walkie-talkies to help employees communicate more quickly with each other rather than having them walk a long distance away from their post to relay a message. Maximizing use of an existing sort system to separate cows for group or individual management can reduce the workload on individuals and even allow fewer employees to be dedicated to cow separation or movement-related tasks. For farms that have access to herd management technology, empowering designated employees to use specific reports can help them define their daily tasks more efficiently. Having your farm-management team work with your local dairy adviser can help you decide what reports are most useful and time saving for your operation.
Optimizing and maintaining the use of existing machinery and chemicals in the milking center is another way to save dollars and time. It’s important to know how much chemical you are using on a regular basis and whether that amount is enough, too little or too much to yield satisfactory results – meaning you have good udder health, acceptable somatic cell count and a clean parlor. Overuse or underuse of chemicals is an easily overlooked problem if they’re not being regularly monitored. Checking for leaks in dip lines and pumps can minimize waste of product. Performing a wash audit on your parlor can tell you how effective your cleaning program is and where there is opportunity to be more efficient. Wash water temperature and volume, dosage of chemicals and even frequency of washing can all be relatively simple yet effective changes to yield better and more efficient cleaning. Improving in this area can ultimately save farms money and potentially help them make more money in collecting milk quality bonuses, if they are offered. Changing the application mechanism of teat dip can also help reduce product consumption. In comparison to spraying teat dip, foaming teat dips can reduce product usage while remaining effective.
Performing routine preventative maintenance on equipment like pulsators and vacuum pumps can extend the life of the equipment you already have. Skipping preventative maintenance may sound like a quick solution to pinch pennies, but farms that cut corners like this will ultimately see a rise in emergency service costs and possibly experience times where the parlor is out of commission due to nonfunctional equipment. Failing to keep up with preventative maintenance can also be detrimental to the equipment’s ability to milk cows safely and effectively as well as decrease the standard of milk quality, which ultimately results in lost profit.
Generally, the first question raised when discussing milking performance is along the lines of, “How can we get more milk out of more cows at a faster rate?” To answer this question completely, we need to explore several aspects of the milking process of the individual farm. Improving the flow of cow traffic in and out of the parlor will shave time off milking sessions and decrease the average time cows spend away from feed and beds. Improving cow flow can also allow more cows to be milked under the right conditions. Evaluating milking prep procedures will help identify ways in which protocols can be modified to help cows let their milk down faster, therefore shortening average milking duration and improving milking efficiency. By consulting with your milking system provider and animal health professionals, making adjustments to both vacuum and pulsation can also decrease the average milking duration. By managing these parameters with the correct team of professionals, we have the potential to improve teat-end health and milk quality. Use of herd management software to monitor these milking-performance parameters can help you and your external advisory team come up with realistic and attainable goals for your farm.
PHOTO: Routine parlor maintenance keeps equipment operating efficiently and minimizes emergency service calls and times when the milking center is out of commission. Photo courtesy of DeLaval.
- Dairy Adviser
Checklist to boost milking center efficiency
- Minimize distance milkers need to travel to communicate and get supplies.
- Maximize use of existing sort system.
- Check for overuse or underuse of wash chemicals and teat dip.
- Perform a wash audit on your parlor.
- Keep up with routine preventative maintenance on equipment.
- Improve cow flow.
- Evaluate milking prep procedures.
- Use herd management software to monitor milking performance.