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Swing parlour saves costs for Judge Farms

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 January 2017
Freestall barns

William Judge married his sweetheart Katrina on a Saturday in October – and moved his cows into his new barn on the following Wednesday.

“I don’t think it was her idea of a honeymoon,” he admits somewhat ruefully, adding that it was “not funny at the time.”

The Judge family came to the Caledon area of Ontario in the 1830s. William’s grandfather Charles purchased the home farm in the 1930s, farming with his sons Allan and Bruce (William’s father).

The younger Judges began shipping cream originally but later changed to milk production.

William joined his dad and uncle following graduation in 2007 from the University of Guelph with a bachelor’s degree from his major in animal science. The men farm close to 1,000 acres, part owned, part rented.

William Judge

They grow corn, soybeans, barley and hay. Some are cash crops, but most is used for feed for their milking herd, which numbers around 200 head in total. All are registered Holsteins.

William is not on official test, as he feels he gets sufficient information from the new parlour, which features a full ID and activity system.

Originally, the farm featured a 72-cow tiestall barn, but as the herd grew, this required constant switching to manage 90 milking cows. Chores were taking four to five hours for each milking, twice a day, making for a very labour-intensive system that was not efficient.

William had come home with lots of new ideas, and while it took a while to convince his dad and uncle to make changes, they are loving it now.

Construction began on a new barn and parlour in 2016; it should have been finished well ahead of William and Katrina’s wedding date, but construction dragged, encountered delays, and it wasn’t finished on time.

The new barn features 132 freestalls with sand bedding to hold the farm’s current milking herd of 108 cows. Roomy pens with deep-straw bedding are located at one end for calves and maternity and special-needs cows.

A hoof trimming station is set up mid-barn. William included this to make it easy to take care of the cows’ feet. It is easy to direct cows into the chute as needed. Sort gates direct cow traffic into headlocks for other purposes.

Trimming station

William’s original dream was to have a double-10 parallel parlour, but cost was an important factor. William states he “didn’t want to skimp on cow comfort.”

As he had previous experience milking in a swing parlour, which he found quite acceptable, the Judges chose to install a swing parlour on their farm. This is a 50-degree herringbone with space for 12 cows on each side.

There is one set of milking units on a swing arm, so all cows on one side are milked, then while that group is changing, the other side is milked using the same units.

This was a huge cost savings, as only half the number of milking units was required, but these don’t see idle time between groups.

Cows enter and leave single file, another cost saver over a rapid-exit system. The milking herd learned fast; even the first milking was faster than in the old system, and it is getting better as time goes on.

They are still working on finding the routine that will be most efficient but are definitely happy with the change. Milking time has dropped from four to five hours to a mere hour-and-a-half.

The Judge men share the work the farm requires. Allan and William do most of the milking, while Bruce scrapes manure and keeps the cows moving through the parlour. William has accepted responsibility for most of the breeding and management of the herd, but all three share decision-making and fieldwork.

They are looking forward to spring, when William’s sister Amelia returns from her studies in Guelph (crop sciences) to be part of the team.

Katrina is also becoming involved; she spent much time at her grandfather’s dairy farm while growing up and enjoys involvement with animals.

Feed for the cows is delivered once a day. The feed is pushed up frequently, so far manually, but William will be looking at a mechanical feed pusher in the future.

There are other plans for the future, as William is hoping to expand the herd as quota becomes available. He planned his barn with future expansion in mind and is also looking towards building a calf and heifer barn some day.

He would like to expand to be “as big as I can be,” he says.

William attends meetings of the milk committee, and attends church, but doesn’t find time for much other community involvement. “The farm keeps me pretty busy,” he says, adding that he has “no real hobbies. If you love what you do, you don’t need them.”

And the missed honeymoon? Plans are in process for a trip later this winter.  end mark

PHOTO 1: After switching 90 cows in and out of a 72-cow tiestall barn, a new freestall barn allows the milking herd to be kept under one roof with room to grow.

PHOTO 2: William Judge beams as he shows his new swing-style milking parlour.

PHOTO 3: A hoof trimming station is positioned in the middle of the freestall barn for easier hoof care. Photos by Alice Guthrie.

Alice Guthrie
  • Alice Guthrie

  • Freelance Writer
  • Hagersville, Ontario

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