With milking and related tasks taking up more than half the time spent on a dairy farm, DairyNZ scientist Paul Edwards says if you want to make the farm dairy more efficient, it’s necessary to look at cow flow, the interaction between cows, people and infrastructure, to get everything working smoothly. This is what DairyNZ’s Milksmart programme aims to achieve by providing farmers and farm teams with practical solutions to save time and money.
“Good cow flow is essential if you want to be efficient. When you get the whole process right – from starting in the paddock, walking to the yard, rowing up, cupping up, milking, teat spraying, to the journey back to the paddock – people and animals are happy and everything runs smoothly,” says Paul.
Adopting the Milksmart approach has been worth its weight in gold for Chris Poole, who is a contract milker on his parents John and Anne Poole’s dairy farm at Pirongia, South Waikato. Streamlining the milking routine has saved almost two hours a day during peak lactation.
“Our DairyNZ consulting officer Steve Canton could see we were milking a lot of rows all year round and suggested that if we made a few changes we could milk more efficiently. We thought at the time that we were going pretty well, and I didn’t think it would change much, but we decided to give it a go anyway. We’re glad we did,” says Chris.
Getting team buy-in was crucial he says. “Everyone in the team became involved. They looked at the DairyNZ Milksmart videos (dairynz.co.nz/herringbone-routine) and everyone could see why we were doing it, so the small changes we made were easy. When you’ve got a multicultural team like ours, it’s important to make sure everyone understands what’s needed and the part they have to play.”
Right away Chris changed the milking routine by implementing ‘bunny-hopping’. The first milker loads five cows and starts cupping (aiming to cup the first cow within 30 seconds). The second milker, instead of rowing up half to three-quarters of the row, starts rowing up and cupping the next five cows. Typically, by the time the first milker has finished their five, the next lot of cows have rowed themselves up.
“We also changed the cupping threshold on the automatic cup remover,” says Chris. “The cups come off earlier than they normally would, leaving a bit of milk behind. This is not lost, but harvested more efficiently at the next milking. After our first milking using the new routine, we were a couple of hundred litres down, but that was back to normal at the next milking.”
These two changes and the use of an auto teat sprayer have reduced actual row time from eight minutes 40 seconds to six minutes 40 seconds, a saving per row of two minutes. It has also saved staff time, says Chris.
“At certain times of the year, we’d have three people coming to the shed in the morning. One would be on cows and two would be in the pit. Now we just have two. If there’s a second herd that’s far away, instead of that third person coming in at 5.00am, they’ll now come at 6.00 am. It’s still an early start, but it’s an hour later than it used to be, and everyone’s keen on that.
“We start our afternoon milking a bit later, just to give cows more time in the paddock resting – at least an hour. That results in less lameness and fewer overall tasks to do, so it benefits the animals and the staff. The cows in the paddock seem more content and the staff have a longer lunch break.”
Once the milking routine was sorted, Chris introduced some other changes and is thinking about others. He installed an automatic teat sprayer in the exit race – leaving one less task for the milkers – and he put an automatic off-switch on the backing gate. A pit mirror is on the shopping list to let the milkers see the yard and now that he has gained confidence, Chris is also considering further increasing the automatic cluster remover setting.
“We used to teat spray manually. Having an automatic sprayer has sped us up quite a bit, not only from a time perspective but also physically, because the milkers don’t have to walk so far. We’ve reduced steps by 15 percent.
“The automatic switch for the backing gate reduces labour and at the same time stops the cows from being pushed up too tightly. Apart from removing a small task, it’s had the additional benefit of reducing lameness, which also saves time by having to make fewer treatments.
“All the things that have made milking quicker have also reduced cow lameness significantly, because the cows are spending less time on concrete. I think this has been the biggest benefit overall.” Chris recommends giving Milksmart a go. “The thing is, you get a result straight away. It’s not like a farm system change where you only know at the end of the season whether or not you’re better off. You can try it out for a few days and, if it’s not for you, you can change back and there’s no harm done.”
Efficiency and savings
Efficiency is not necessarily about milking faster or working harder, it’s all about optimising the use of equipment and labour resources to get the best from the milk harvesting system. For tips and videos showing how to milk more efficiently, visit dairynz.co.nz/milking
Savings made at the Poole farm
- 50 to 60 minutes each milking.
- Relief milker costs less.
- Cows milked per hour increased from 291 to 384.
- Work routine time down to 18 seconds per cow.
- Team starts later or gets home earlier.
- Staff are happier, which means less turnover.
- Reduced lameness and, therefore, less time spent treating it.
The Poole’s other time-saving devices
- New outside calf pens
The Pooles operate split calving. They start calves in a shed, and have fenced a small paddock (too small for herd) into four sections with a metal pad in the middle. They park the calf feeder in the middle, feed one mob and chase them out, then feed the next, and so on, instead of driving around the farm. That’s worked well and they’re keen to make another similar paddock.
- Automatic gate opener
This saves the Pooles about an hour each day on labour. The cows walk themselves to the feed/shed. When the gate opens it hits a drum; the cows hear that noise and start moving. It’s a big saving because it eliminates the need to have a staff member sitting on a bike. Instead, the cows come in on their own and they’re not being pushed.
- Satellite pasture monitoring
Chris is testing out this technology to automatically record pasture covers by satellite. He is hoping he'll be able to reduce the frequency of manual farm walks in the future.
Words: Christine Hartley Photos: Craig Brown
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy September 2018