8 Efficiency-Driving Technologies for Rotaries and Parlors

November 9, 2021

How do you define efficiency within your milking system? Whether it’s in time, output, energy or cost of various functions, understanding your benchmarks and goals is the first step toward improving your efficiency.

Rather than focusing only on the amount of milk harvested in the parlor, look for efficiency-enhancing technologies that generate measurable improvements in cow movement, labor use and the milking process.

Efficiency of labor and cow movement

Stoplight technique

One of the most exciting uses of technology for cow movement in the holding pen is a traffic light to indicate the current position of the crowd gate to the barn crew.

Developed from a single red light into a red, yellow and green traffic light system by David Moser of Oak Ridge Dairy in Ellington, Connecticut, the light alerts the person pushing cows as to current holding pen capacity and when to push cows. According to Moser, “The rotary loads so much smoother when the cows arrive right on time and are all facing the parlor.”

Automated crowd gate

Frequently, milkers must exit the pit area to push the “advance” button on the crowd gate or usher cows into the parlor. Automated crowd gate technology encourages cows to continuously move forward. It reduces the amount of time spent away from milking to move cows, and it reduces the need for milkers to enter the holding pen.

Rapid-exit systems

Now that we have the cows in the parlor and milked, we need to quickly get them out and back to eating and resting. Advancements in rapid-exit design have addressed concerns about safety, cow comfort and, more recently, vertical and horizontal space saving. Some rapid-exit systems also allow for gang exit, or the release of smaller groups of animals to minimize cow flow bottlenecks at the parlor exit.

Herd management automation

A producer can sort cows and automate the process in many different ways. One method to increase labor efficiencies is the use of cow identification, herd management data and sort systems. Sorts can be set up prior to a milking session for breeding purposes, pregnancy checks, vaccinations and other health events. Following milking, if the herd management system has detected a milk yield deviation, blood in the milk or displays other milking-type alarms, the system can automatically sort the cow based upon set thresholds. Milkers can also make a cow side-sort selection using a touchscreen by the rotary. In both scenarios, the milkers can send a cow to the sort pen without fetching and examining.

Efficiency of the milking process

Vacuum levels

System vacuum should be set based on the average claw vacuums tested on numerous cows, and the ideal claw vacuum is set based upon the liner chosen. Today, we can even control vacuum per individual cow based on actual flow rate. Once a set flow rate has been reached, the vacuum level for that cow can be increased to speed the milk flow through the system and away from the cow.

Rotary speed

Almost every rotary needs the ability to automatically change speed based upon the groups’ average milking speed. For heavy-producing or longer-duration groups, the deck will slow down, and for lower-producing or short-milking-duration groups, the deck will speed up.

Efficiency of labor during milking

Robotic technology

To help make the best use of labor on a dairy, consider the various technologies from robotic teat spray applicators to fully robotic rotary milking systems. Automating a repetitive task reallocates man-hours to a higher-value role or eliminates them altogether.

Automated control systems

With the increasing use of plant status monitoring and control systems in dairy operations, the ability to automate and monitor various tasks and functions—like milk filter or tank switching— is almost limitless and allows employees to focus on the more strategic and management-related tasks. From system cleaning to milk cooling system components, these systems ensure everything is running smoothly and efficiently, enabling replacement of a failing component before it becomes a failed component in the middle of the night. Using various remote access platforms, dealer technicians and on-farm maintenance personnel can remotely monitor all functions and performance of the dairy operation.

Choosing the technology that’s right for you is a major financial decision that can’t be made without first identifying weaknesses and inefficiencies in your system. If the addition of technology can improve those inefficiencies, it’s good to also consider its return on investment.