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Link cows, people and equipment for milking efficiency

Rick Watters, Bob Ceglowski and Mark Thomas for Progressive Dairyman Published on 02 March 2016
Dairy parlour

Monitoring the milking centre for parlour efficiency, milk quality, procedural drift and milking equipment performance is a multifaceted approach that involves analyzing the cow, people and equipment.

With today’s technology and parlour performance values at our fingertips 24-7, it is easy to get lost in the numbers.

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Providing feedback on the goals set forth by a farm requires linking people, cows and equipment to the values obtained before and during the milking time evaluation.

In order to monitor the goals of any farm operation, the farm must first define its goals. Goals should be realistic, achievable and designed to improve the overall efficiency of the dairy operation. How does one know if the goals have been achieved if the goals were not first set?

Part of goal setting is detailing how the goal will be monitored or evaluated. It is easy to say that a farm wants to ship 64 litres of milk per stall per hour, but it is more difficult to identify factors that impact this metric.

Goal setting and monitoring is not simply stating a goal of 64 litres of milk per stall per hour and then informing the staff if they achieved the goal or not. The reason certain parameters are chosen as a herd goal is because ownership/management believes it is a value that can have a positive impact on the overall efficiency of the dairy operation.

It is also imperative that the milking staff is aware of what the goals are and how they will be monitored. Ownership, management, milkers, cow pushers, etc., should all be aware of how a goal will be evaluated or monitored.

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For example, if a crowd gate is not operating properly or if the parlour sits idle for 18 minutes because there are no cows in the holding area, then this will have an impact on the stated goal of 64 litres of milk per stall per hour.

Goal setting and monitoring is the only way to know whether you are achieving or not achieving your stated goals. Monitoring also allows you to identify what is actually occurring on the dairy so changes can be made to allow progress toward meeting the goals.

After the herd goals are set, some managers may ask why even perform a milking time evaluation when, with today’s technology, one could simply download data directly from the farm related to parlour performance, milk quality and udder health? If a farm has a goal of 4.5 turns per hour but is only obtaining 4.2 turns per hour, how can one determine what is causing this without observing a milking?

What does it mean if 10 percent of milking units are being detached manually? The first thought may be that the automatic take-offs (ATOs) are not functioning properly. If ATOs are not functioning properly, is that an issue with the equipment, or is it because of lack of maintenance, which is a management issue?

None of these questions can be answered without being present in the milking centre during milking time. Data allows management or consultants to develop a theory as to “how” and “why” the metric was or was not achieved. Reality is that one must visually observe a milking to see what impact the cows, people and equipment are having on the metrics you are monitoring.

Labour management is the backbone of any business because a two-way street of communication between management and the daily workforce is of primary importance if the business is going to be successful. In the dairy world today, training of milkers is more common than it was 10 years ago; however, training of milkers is not the only training that needs to take place on a dairy operation.

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Management ultimately determines what the overall goals of the dairy operation are going to be, but management also decides what level of input the entire dairy workforce will have in the development of the goals.

Involving the entire workforce of milkers, feeders, cow pushers, maintenance personnel, managers and owners in the development of herd goals and training is important to the overall success of the dairy operation.

It is important to recognize that training of management is just as important as training of the milkers. If milker training is solely focused on what management decided, then the training will become one-dimensional and milkers may not provide feedback regarding daily tasks.

Management needs to decide what the topic of training will be, but it is very important to allow feedback during the training process with the feedback incorporated into the follow-up training.

Rewards for achieving a goal do not always have to be monetary. Workers appreciate knowing that the daily task they are performing is important to the overall success of the operation. Workers also appreciate being recognized verbally for positive performance.

Don’t only recognize the workforce when they go above and beyond; also recognize workers for performing their daily tasks. Monetary compensation in the form of bonuses can serve a positive role, but do not let this method be the only way to recognize your workforce.

Goal setting is the key to monitoring and improving the overall success of a dairy operation. This process requires a multi-person approach so the entire workforce, management and ownership are involved.

The cows and equipment are of primary importance, but we must remember that everything occurs through people. Monitoring goals allows management to identify the “bottlenecks” in a current routine or task that is not allowing for the stated goal to be achieved. Once a “bottleneck” is identified and removed from the system, then a new “bottleneck” and new goal will be identified.

The only constant is that a new “bottleneck” will appear once one is eliminated, thus goal setting and monitoring is a continual process. One cannot evaluate a farm’s goals by only looking at SCC, bacteria counts and cows per hour.

Analyzing the data allows for the development of a theory, whereas visually observing the process during milking will allow evaluation of the cows, people and equipment, leading to the reality of how expectations can be met.  PD

Bob Ceglowski and Mark Thomas are with Dairy Health and Management Services LLC. Thomas works from the main office in Lowville, New York, while Ceglowski is located in Salem, New York.

PHOTO: Part of goal setting is detailing how the goal will be monitored or evaluated. It is easy to say that a farm wants to ship 64 litres of milk per stall per hour, but it is more difficult to identify factors that impact this metric. Photo provided by Staff.

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