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Improving cow flow for efficient milking

Improving cow flow for efficient milking

Labour studies undertaken by Teagasc have shown that milking represents up to one third of a dairy farmer’s daily workload.

To point the way to practices that can make this daily task more efficient, Padraig O’Connor joined James Dunne on a recent Let’s Talk Dairy webinar, where the milking routine best practice was discussed.

“If you can get cow flow correct that will make milking much easier. We are expecting a 500-600kg animal to get from the paddock, through the roadway, into the milking parlour, through the parlour, and back out again.

“Really, we want to make that as easy as possible. There’s no obstructions. There’s nothing that’s going to inhibit that animal from actually going through that process.

“What we mean by cow flow is the cows flowing from the paddock, through the roadway into the collecting yard, and through the parlour itself,” Padraig said.

Addressing cow flow challenges

Commenting on the factors that affect cow flow, Padraig said: “The milking routine starts from when the cows are collected from the paddock, in through the roadways, and into the parlour and out again. All those building blocks need to be looked at.”

“If you have time,” he said, “look at the cows coming from the paddock and see is there are any points where the cows stop. See if there are any pinch points, because - if the cows stop - there is an issue with that part of the roadway and it just needs to be addressed.”

It is important that the full width of the roadway is actually utilised and factors such as roadway width, surface and camber are all important. Offering advice on roadway design to ensure an efficient flow of cows, Padraig noted that 5m wide roadways are required for 100-cow herds. After that, the roadway width must increase by 1m for every additional 100 cows.

Entering the collecting yard

One issue that is often observed at farm level is an insufficient entrance width to the collecting yard. Padraig advised that this should be the same width as the roadway to avoid a further pinch point.

In addition, if cows are squeezed into a collecting yard, it may have issues, potentially leading to higher stress levels and cell count issues. Offering advice on the space required within a collecting yard, he said 1.5m2 per cow is necessary.

Cows entering and exiting the parlour

Along with having sufficient roadways and collecting yard space, Padraig commented on the requirements for parlour access, noting that the parlour entrance should be “open, bright and airy”, while also serving to funnel the cows into the parlour.

Sufficient space, he said, is also required at the outside of the parlour exit for one full row of cows. This is necessary to avoid restricting the next row of cows coming into the parlour.

“Sufficient room at the front of the parlour and where they are going outside of the shed is really important.”

He also pointed to a labour saving tip that farmers can utilise during the milking process. When completing a milking, Padraig always starts from the front of the parlour and works his way back through the row of cows.

“Let’s say you are milking in a 16-unit parlour, you’ve started from the front of the parlour and you are teat spraying as you go back along as well – that’s important that you have that done.

“When you are in the back of a parlour, you can actually open the exit gate when you are at the back transferring the last two or three units, so as the cows that are finished milking can actually filter out themselves.”

With the cows filtering out themselves, cows are less stressed and are not being rushed out.

“By that little tweak alone, you could save two minutes per row. If you have eight rows, that’s 15 or 16 minutes by making just a small change.”

Watch the webinar below where Padraig also discusses factors affecting milking time and how to improve efficiency during the milk process.

Let's Talk Dairy is a weekly webinar series held every Thursday morning, offering timely, relevant and practical advice to allow you make better management decisions on your dairy farm. Watch back previous webinars or register for future webinars here.