Are you planning the right parlour?

Published 1 January 09

Are you planning the right parlour?

Dairy farmers who are seeking to change their milking systems could save thousands of pounds by comparing alternative options before committing to costly changes.

DairyCo has recently re-launched its Parlour Wizard, enabling producers to examine their existing parlour and milking routine, and compare it to other options from both a financial and practical perspective.

"Many dairy farmers desperately need to reinvest in their milking systems, and last year's better milk prices mean that some are now considering how best to spend their money," says extension officer Andrew Warner. "Some producers are expanding, while others might want to cut back on labour, boost production or generally improve efficiencies."

The first step is to input farm-specific details like the existing parlour type, number of cows, labour, milking time, milking routine and existing automation. Parlour Wizard then compares these figures against target benchmarks, highlighting any areas which could be improved upon.

"It considers whether a producer's current milking routine is limiting their milking speed, and helps them to decide whether they really need a new parlour, or whether making changes to the existing parlour is a more cost-effective option," says Mr Warner.

For example, installing new technology, such as automatic cluster removal, could speed up milking times, and reduce labour requirements. Other considerations include fore milking, teat cleaning, and parlour feeding, and the impact that changing these routines will have on milking time, labour requirement, and herd health.

"It is generally the milking routine and the level of automation that determines the speed of milking, rather than the size of the parlour," says Mr Warner. "A typical milking routine would give a maximum milking speed of 62 cows per hour - but adding a backing gate could increase this to 75 cows per hour by reducing cow loading time."

Farmers considering installing a new parlour can set the target herd size and milk yield, as well as planned milking speed and capital budget. The wizard will then calculate the optimum number of milking units to fully utilise labour, and farmers can examine alternative parlour efficiencies.

New building expenditure can also be included, and the wizard helps producers to choose the optimum parlour configuration, by looking at the pros and cons of seven different layouts, says Mr Warner. These include Herringbone; Rapid Exit; Auto Tandem; Rotary; and Robotic systems.

"The capital costs are split between equipment, automation and building costs, to enable the farmer to see where his budget can be put to best use," he adds. "Operating costs are also calculated, using typical outlay on dairy chemicals, wipes, liners and maintenance for various configurations and size of parlour. All are given on a cost per cow, total cost and cost per litre basis."

Once producers have examined their choices, Parlour Wizard produces a financial report based on the planned herd size, milk yield and options selected, and compares it against the existing system. "This report, which includes operating costs and capital expenditure for each different option, enables producers to see the full picture before making their final decision," says Mr Warner.

"Farmers can then go back into the program and alter their choices to see the effect this will have on the financial report - the wizard will also flag up action points if, say, running costs have risen as a result of any of the changes," he adds.

"In the current financial climate dairy farmers must ensure that they are achieving maximum efficiency from their existing unit, and make any changes based on accurate financial information. The Parlour Wizard enables producers to do this, and for many it will be an indispensable management tool."

To order your free copy of the Dairy Wizard, which includes the Parlour, Slurry and Housing Wizards to provide a complete dairy budgeting and management tool, contact your extension officer or call DairyCo on 02476 478695.

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