How to Choose the Right Milking Solution – With the Best Parlor Configuration

What to consider when choosing your milking parlor

The right parlor configuration and milking solution for your herd can make a big difference in reaching your productivity goals

Whether you purchased or built your own farm, you’ve likely considered your parlor configuration options along the way. Making a change is a big investment, but the contribution it can make to productivity is even bigger. And although others have likely given you advice based on their preferred milking solutions, to get the most benefit, you need to consider what’s the best match for your particular needs.

Let’s begin with a brief overview of the types of parlors available.

  • Rotary – Cows enter and exit the parlor in different positions, and stand in one place throughout milking as the platform rotates.
  • Parallel – Cows stand back-to-back, with the pit located in the middle.
  • Herringbone – Cows stand on both sides, at an angle, branching out like a herringbone; usually (depending on the parlor) at 130°.
  • Top swing or swing-over – Cows stand in herringbone or parallel stalls and are milked from one middle line using a swing arm that moves from the left side to the right.
  • Tandem – Each cow has its own stall where it’s locked, milked, and released.

Six questions to consider

To work out which parlor type would be best, you need to consider your actual farm needs and workstyle priorities. The chart below gives you a clear indicator, with a full description to follow.

Use this chart to help choose the right parlor configuration for you. More milk drops mean a better fit for that particular parameter.

1. Yield

Higher yield cows take longer to milk and need to be moved in and out of milking more quickly, without generating traffic jams. As such, a rotary parlor is ideal for high yielding cows who can get into position as soon as a spot clears, milk, and get out whenever they’re done – or go for a second round while the rest reload. For lower yield cows, however, rotary doesn’t make sense as the cow will finish milking before the rotation completes.

Consistent yield from well-managed milking with a rotary parlor.

2. Number of cows milked per hour

Next you need to decide how many cows you want to milk per hour. If the number is high, rotary or swing will be most efficient, though you need to ensure the solution suits your herd and proposed parlor size. Also, think about average cow flow, traffic, and how long you want to spend milking each cow. Remember, if the cow must walk 10 or 15 meters to get to the milking point, every milking session will take longer.

3. Operator efficiency per cow

Manpower is another consideration in terms of productivity. For example, rotary and top swing parlors are the best in terms of operator efficiency, ensuring the time needed to handle each cow is very fast and very focused.

4. Operator comfort

Similarly, think about the amount of time and motions required of the milker in the pit, and how that affects their wellbeing. Once again, rotary and top swing parlors maximize operator comfort thanks to their efficiency.

5. Animal movement

How fast your cows can enter and exit the parlor are another factor. Rotary and parallel make the walking distance shorter, and are easier for onloading in terms of angle.

6. Animal visibility

And finally, you want to think about how well the operator sees the animal in the parlor. Tandem is actually best here as you have all the cows standing in front of you on the side of the pit. Then swing-over and herringbone as you can see from the side. Parallel, on the other hand, is worst in terms of visibility as you’re milking between legs and have a cabinet that hides them from view.

The best parlor configuration for your type of herd

All of that being said, there are three other basic considerations that are no less important. And those are: budget, space (some parlor configurations require more land), and the location of the parlor.

At the end of the day only you can decide. But there are generalizations you can follow from other farmers.

  • Grazing herds – For grazing herds, usually rotary or top swing parlors are best. Why? Because the most important thing here is the number of cows per hour. Usually these herds are bigger than non-grazing herds. So in a place like Australia where cow grazing is common, rotary is most popular, to ensure more cows per hour and operator efficiency.
  • Mega herds – For massive herds, multiple parlors are often needed, and usually rotary or parallel are preferred to handle a high number of cows per hour.
  • Mid-to-large size herds – Here you’ll likely want to choose a standard setup like parallel. It’s a lower investment, the efficiency is quite good, and so is the cow movement.
  • Smaller herds – Usually smaller herds go with tandem or herringbone, which have a smaller number of stations than other parlor solutions.

Your parlor choice is part of an effective milking solution

Making the right parlor choice is key. But so is combining it with the right milking solution, to maximize comfort and productivity. For example, if you use an Allflex milking intelligence system on any parlor configuration you can save up to 20% of the milking time. And this is on top of the savings of an efficient parlor! Plus, you can reduce the number of people needed to milk.

So while change may be daunting, remember there are no cost savings in maintaining a less-than-ideal status quo. If you want to maximize milk profits, you need to put your parlor first, because it’s by far the most important place you meet your animal. The same goes for milking technology. Adapting such technology is not nearly as scary as it may seem, especially with an easy to operate, one push button Allflex milking solution which can be integrated in any parlor, including an existing parlor of any kind.

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