When I’m looking to generate more income for a dairy, the milking parlor is one of the first places I look to create cash flow. More often than not, I find facilities, cows and employees are under-utilized, leaving milk on the table you may not even realize is there.
By maximizing parlor efficiency, dairies can use the tools they already have in place to save time and money while also squeezing out a few more pounds of milk. Here are six ways to do it:
1. Milk more often
I’ve worked with several dairies to step up from a 3X milking schedule to 4X, and those extra pounds of milk per cow make a difference. For some, it’s an increase of a pound or two per cow each day, while others gain 10 pounds or more. This tells us there are a lot of opportunities to make up milk lost from discontinuing rBST use.
Several factors go into making the decision to add a milking shift. Parlor size, pen size, facility set-up and cow movement all play a part. Even if milking all cows once more daily isn’t feasible, perhaps fresh cows could be milking more often and late-lactation cows less often.
2. Stop wasting time
Inefficiencies in the parlor suck time and drain profits. Give employees the tools they need to perform their jobs without interruption. Ample supplies of dips and towels should be at the milkers’ fingertips; they should not be leaving the parlor in the middle of a shift to restock.
Work with the milking equipment company to check the wash system and seek their advice on how to speed up the process in order to minimize cleaning downtime for between shifts. Though it may be tempting to put off scheduled maintenance, doing so can cost more in the long run when somatic cells counts rise.
3. Motivate employees
Capitalizing on people’s skills and competitive spirit can have positive results. Use friendly competition as a source of motivation. For example, set a goal for the number of cows milked in an hour and challenge each shift to achieve that mark.
I’ve seen some dairies find success with paying workers by the shift instead of by the hour. This helps to maximize parlor efficiency because milkers will be driven to complete their shift as opposed to stretching out the time it takes to milk in order to be paid for more hours.
If implementing this payment method, be certain to clearly lay out expectations and protocols for thoroughly cleaning and completing their shift.
4. Make sure cows are pulling their weight
When times are tough, the temptation is to hold onto cows that should have left the herd for one reason or another, hoping to get that extra milk. However, this can be a counterproductive approach. The slow milkers and sub-par producers are holding up the parlor while offering little gain.
When these cows hang around too long, they end up being the ones that need to be treated, thus incurring more expense. Further, these problem cows are not the kind you want more of in the herd but, if left unidentified, will be bred back or, worse yet, fail to breed back after several costly tries. Stop messing around with these cows. Managers should code them as “do not breed” or put them on the culling list.
Dairy owners and managers don’t like cows that cost them money, and employees don’t like dealing with cows that slow up the milking schedule or constantly need to be treated. Ask workers which cows are thorns in their sides and take their opinions into consideration among these other factors. Seeking their input in solving a problem will boost employee morale.
5. Shut down the treated/fresh cow parlor
Small parlors for milking fresh and treated cows are extremely inefficient and can take hours to achieve what could have been done in the main milking parlor in 15 minutes with the same labor force.
6. Make cows move efficiently
The parlor may be running like a top, but the cow flow to and from milking can be an efficiency bottleneck. Getting in the trenches and milking a shift or two can reveal where the struggles are. For example, are workers going out to the holding area to push cows into the parlor?
The goal is to train the cows to enter the parlor on their own, not to train employees to leave the parlor to push them. Training or refresher courses in animal handling and movement can be very beneficial and available at little to no cost.
Also, observe cow flow to and from pens to the parlor. Is each pen filling their time slot in the parlor? Avoid smaller pen sizes, which are less efficient.
Some of these tips may be easy for you to implement right away, while others require some careful planning and consideration. Don’t be afraid to seek outside help, think outside the box of everyday dairy management or break the long-standing “we’ve always done it this way” habit. There is unclaimed milk available on your dairy right now. It’s time to go get it.
- Complete Management Consulting