Spending that valuable time in other areas has brought a mass of benefits to their life and business. Efficiency and happiness levels went up, costs went down, and production remained stable.
Some say, time is the most valuable thing you can spend…
“When Duncan and I entered the dairy industry, the standard belief was that a rotary platform time should be set so that only about 10 percent of cows are sent around twice,” says Kim.
“After reading a DairyNZ article with new research showing that 15-20 percent go-around cows was in fact more efficient, we were keen to attend our local DairyNZ Milksmart event to learn more about the concept.”
At the time, Kim and Duncan were milking 440 cows through a 36 bail rotary on a Manawatu farm, and needless to say, they were “keen to make milking go quicker”.
“Using the 10 percent go-around concept, each milking took about three hours, excluding wash up,” says Duncan.
For Kim and Duncan’s set up, sending 20 percent of cows around the platform twice meant speeding it up from a 12 minute round to a nine minute round.
“Basically, it means there are more cows on the platform that are actually milking,” says Duncan.
“When we were only sending 10 percent of cows around twice, even with a platform speed of 12 minutes per round, we were often slowing down the platform waiting for cows to finish milking.
“There is no change in production from speeding up the platform and cows are still milked out properly – it’s just a faster process.
“If you don’t have automatic cup removers, it also keeps the work flowing for the cups-off person so there’s less idle time.”
Worth its weight in gold
With a time saving of 30 minutes per milking, or one hour per day, Kim and Duncan say the flow on benefits for them and their staff are immense.
“The extra time is the biggest benefit, it's given us a lot more freedom and flexibility.
“We’re not as rushed during the day which has really improved our wellbeing and it makes the job more enjoyable,” says Duncan.
“You need that enjoyment if you’re in it for the long haul. If you don’t enjoy it, you don’t last long.”
Stress levels went down thanks to longer breaks, says Duncan.
“A proper break makes the world of difference. It gives you time to rest, relax and eat well to stay fuelled and healthy.
“It made our farm policy of everyone being home by five thirty at night very achievable. Milking starts to fit in with that.”
With the days running at a smoother pace, Duncan says their efficiency on-farm has increased, they aren't as tired and they have the ability to work on the business, not just in it.
“We have the time to be more organised and put plans together,” says Duncan.
“I’m usually in the house for an hour and a half over lunch. I have a proper break for an hour and I now have the ability to spend half an hour focusing on the business.
“We also have the capacity to set up in advance and feed out for a few days at once which makes more sense,” says Duncan.
“It also means that if something does go wrong, it doesn’t put your whole day down the gurgler like it would if you’re stretched every minute. You’re in a position where you can deal with it.”
Maintaining work enjoyment
A work environment with less stress, better hours and more enjoyment is one the whole team benefits from, says Duncan and Kim.
“In terms of the actual milking, fewer hours in the milking shed is a big win,” says Kim.
“It keeps the milkings consistent. Working at a platform speed for 20 percent go-around cows is really the maximum for efficiency and work routine. It can’t be sped up much more as you wouldn’t be able to keep up.
“Milking is also probably one of everyone’s least favourite jobs on the farm because it’s so repetitive. If you can shorten the time spent milking and get out and do other things – whether it’s work or personal, that’s a real bonus.”
A speedier milking also makes for happy cows, say Duncan and Kim.
“Speeding up improves cow flow. The cows hate waiting. They lose their nerve a bit if they are waiting too long for the cups-on person.
“When the staff aren’t stressed they treat the cows better because they’re not in a hurry to push cows up the race or in the yard.”
With electricity use being reduced for one hour each day, the savings add up, say Kim and Duncan.
To be exact, they saved 8kW/day (240kW/month) by decreasing milking time. At a 26c/kW peak rate, it’s a saving of $63 per month. They also saved 8m3 of water/day.
The Milksmart event also raised a few areas where they could make small changes and reduce costs.
“We put the hot water cylinder on to night rates and put in a bigger element, which cost about $185 in total,” says Kim.
“At the time, the peak day rate was 26c/kW and the night rate was 12c/kW, so we saved about 30 percent on power.
“We also installed timers on our cylinder so water isn’t heated 24 hours a day and made a solar water heating system using alkathene, a return valve and a garden water timer.
“Increasing the inlet water temperature by 10 degrees saves about 3000kW/year, which adds up to $360/year on night rates.
“Our cooler water is on a sensor so it only goes when the milk pump is going.
“It’s about being mindful of little things,” says Kim. “I only turn the taps half on – you don’t need a full blast which uses twice as much water.”
Cupping up trumps
As well as learning about the most efficient milking concepts, Kim says she was keen to learn the best cupping technique.
“At the time I was only milking in the weekend so I wanted to learn the best technique to get up to speed with others who were in the shed full time and fit into the flow better.
“If you’re going to speed up the platform, your work routine needs to keep up as well.”
Making sense of cow behaviour
Kim and Duncan also took their staff member Jacob Beansley along to the Milksmart event.
“Jacob gained a lot from the cow behaviour workshop which is really evident in the shed,” says Duncan.
“Understanding why cows behave like they do really helps it click and provides the reason for why things are done a certain way.
“The training gave Jacob the understanding around why milking goes faster and smoother when you put less pressure on the cows and reinforced things like correct use of the backing gate and not forcing cows up.
“We encourage staff to ask questions, but we understand they don’t want to be always coming to us and asking things. Milksmart was a great learning opportunity for them. We’ve noticed they are more comfortable asking questions on official training; it gives them the opportunity to really delve into the ‘why’ and the reason behind concepts.
“Jacob knows how to keep the cows happy and give them space to organise themselves. The result is faster and smoother milkings with happier staff and cows.”
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy October 2015