"Low cost" milking parlor design shouldn't be interpreted as "cheap," cautions Dan McFarland, Penn State Extension ag engineer. With objective evaluation of the building, proper planning, and attention to detail, you can create a sanitary, productive parlor for cows and the people milking them, he adds.
Harvesting milk is one of the most important jobs on a dairy farm, so that milking area should be a comfortable, low stress area for cows and milkers. That's why McFarland shares these 10 do's and don'ts of parlor planning from Doug Reinemann, biological systems engineer at University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Know how much you can afford
A good financial analysis is step one. An unprofitable business can't afford to invest anything. Saving time doesn't improve profitability unless there's more profitable use of that time.
"Low-cost" is sometimes defined as a total annual cost of milking, including labor and facilities, that is less than $1 per hundredweight of milk. To be competitive, build a 'reasonably' sized parlor that fits the budget and avoids putting an extra person in the milking area.
Let your installer design the milking system
Designing the parlor and milking system to meet all the sanitary and safety regulations is a highly skilled task. Seek advice of a competent milking equipment installer to work through the planning process with you.
Don't over-estimate old equipment's value
Let your trusted milking equipment installer determine the value of used milking equipment. Most milking equipment is only supported for 10 to 20 years.
Replacement parts for older equipment may be unavailable, hard to get, expensive or all of the above. And, maintenance of older equipment can be labor intensive – costly in itself.
Get the building right
Buildings generally last a long time, but are difficult to remodel. Equipment may last 10 years and is easy to upgrade, as long as the building isn't the limiting factor.
Always compare the cost of renovation versus a new building. It's not always less expensive to remodel, especially if structural modifications and significant concrete removal is necessary.
Plan the milking center of your dreams, then scale back. If your budget is limited, spend it on a good building (with a future), and start with a "bare-bones" milking machine.
Design for good cow flow
Poor cow movement into and out of the milking parlor is frustrating for you and your cows. Eliminate turns whenever possible. Where turns are necessary provide adequate space and reduce the number of direction choices cows must make on their own.
If you remodel, rewire
Almost every old barn lacks an adequate and safe electrical system. Wiring wears out and often can't handle the capacity of new electrical equipment.
Install good lighting
Plenty of good quality light makes a good work environment. Install energy-efficient lights with fixtures designed to operate in a damp location.
Consider energy-saving technology
Energy efficiency is a good investment. Variable-speed drive vacuum pumps, well water milk pre-coolers and heat recovery from the refrigeration system often have two- to six-year paybacks.
Make sure floors drain well
Beware of amateur concrete work! Wet floors make for slippery, unsafe work environments. Create mono-slope floors that drain to a gutter rather than multiple slopes to a single drain. Use a minimum slope of 0.25-inch per foot.
Install good ventilation
Ventilation is essential to control moisture and air pollutants. Cold weather systems provide enough air exchange to provide fresh air, remove moisture, and maintain a comfortable temperature.
Warm weather systems should do the same. But they require a much more rapid air exchange. Be sure to provide adequate controls to allow the system to remove moisture for a time after parlor wash down.