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Extend parlour life with routine maintenance

Austin Turner for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 September 2019
maintenance check list

Maintaining your equipment is key to maximizing its longevity. More often than not, maintenance of milking parlour stalls and gates is forgotten until something breaks down.

By being proactive with a maintenance routine, you can prevent breakdowns and help ensure a long, useful equipment life.

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Remembering to complete milking parlour maintenance may seem like a chore. Turning maintenance into “routine maintenance” makes it easy to ensure nothing is overlooked.

You can time parlour tasks with the timing of other events already happening on your farm and turn your maintenance into monthly, quarterly and biannual checks.

Monthly checks

Do you have a milk tester come on a monthly basis? That’s a good time to check the oils system for air lines or air cylinders. Making sure pneumatic systems are oiled helps increase life and usability.

It’s also good to check valves, air cylinder seals, detach cylinders, air fittings and crowd gates for any air leaks. This will not only help prevent a possible breakdown but can also prolong the life and lower the stress on the air compressor.

Another good monthly check is the air quality in the air compressor. If the air compressor is blowing poor-quality air full of debris through your system, it can corrode parts and impact proper function.

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If this breaks down, water and oil can get into air cylinders. Air cylinders are similar to your lungs – any amount of water in the cylinders can cause major malfunctions.

Monthly maintenance checks can be simple and quick, yet they are essential to preventing major breakdowns.

Quarterly maintenance

Many farms have a quarterly vet check, and that’s a good reminder to complete some extra parlour maintenance.

Everyone knows the importance of cleanliness in a parlour; however, often the post-milking is not as complete or thorough as it could be, allowing dirt to build up over time.

Pressure washing the parlour on a quarterly basis not only keeps it looking nice, it’s also an opportunity to look for stress fractures and cracks.

Important areas to evaluate are friction points, such as rollers or bushing points, as well as pivot or slide points. The constant motion these points experience makes them likely to wear down over time. A small crack can become a real problem if an aggressive cow goes through at just the right angle.

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Milking parlours are constantly under pressure and abuse from the many cows that pass through daily. It’s important to recognize signs of parlour wear and do a thorough inspection on a quarterly basis.

Biannual review

The most important and complete review should be done on a biannual basis and can be timed with the beginning of spring plantings and at the end of harvest.

During this check, you certainly want to look over all of the wear points you evaluate on a monthly and quarterly basis, but need to add a few extra items to the list.

An important area to evaluate on a biannual basis is the exit stalls. Ensure cylinders and bushings are in good working order so they raise and lower properly, allowing a smooth, fast exit.

This can also help ensure the exits don’t fail during milking, potentially injuring cows or employees.

Inspect exit stalls on a biannual basis

Similarly, you’ll want any cables and pulleys to be functioning properly so your exits open evenly. If they are not opening at an even pace, a cow may see her neighbour exiting and attempt to exit before her gate is fully cleared.

This could cause the equipment to break or cause the animal to slip and hurt herself.

Another area often overlooked when completing parlour maintenance is not equipment-related but herd-related.

Have there been any changes to cow size in the herd? Did you begin more crossbreeding? Have you bought cows that are a different size than the rest of your herd? Has the size of the cows in your herd changed over time?

These kinds of changes can have important implications for your parlour. What once may have functioned as a well-oiled machine to move cows in and out of the milking area may now be too large or too small to safely and efficiently accommodate your cows.

If cows are too big for the parlour, they can cause extra wear and stress, leading to an early breakdown of equipment. If your cows are too small for your parlour, they may not stand as easily for milking and can slow down the process or cause injury.

While adjusting the parlour for the size of the cows may not be an easy or quick fix, there are effective and economical options available.

It’s important to be aware of cow size issues to plan for future parlour adjustments or make decisions around herd demographics.

Parlour maintenance – time well spent

There are a lot of cliché sayings that come to mind when thinking about milking parlour maintenance. The most fitting is the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

As with anything, spending a little time on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis maintaining your milking parlour will save many headaches down the road, maybe even preventing the Christmas Day breakdown.

If you plan maintenance to be routine maintenance, it becomes a habit.

Just remember, when the milk tester is visiting, the vet visits, or it’s the start or end of farming season, grab the checklist and make sure your parlour will be running smoothly today and for many days to come.  end mark

PHOTO: Inspect exit stalls on a biannual basis to ensure cylinders and bushings are in good working order and to prevent exits from failing during milking, potentially injuring cows or employees. Photo courtesy of Austin Turner.

Austin Turner is with Turner Parlor Stalls.

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