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Windulan Holsteins Ltd. to utilize ‘intelligent rotary’ parlour

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairyman Published on 01 August 2016
A new 40-stall interior rotary, herringbone milking parlour

The Portena family emigrated from Holland in 1988 and set up a dairy business in the Monkton, Ontario, area.

For the first few years, brothers Mike and Rick farmed with their parents, until they retired in 1997 and Rick established his own operation a short distance away.

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The brothers still work together, sharing fieldwork and machinery. Mike farms 950 acres, growing corn and alfalfa, all for use on the farm. The herd numbers about 950 animals, with about 425 milking. All are commercial Holsteins, and all are homebred.

The dairy operation originally had a double-six parlour, expanded to a double-nine, then a double-12. With so many cows, it was taking way too much time to do milking ... between 4.5 and five hours, three times daily.

Something had to change. Mike and his wife, Theresa, chose to install a new rotary parlour, choosing this over robots because it would be easier to expand in the future. “Could change in a day,” Mike explained, if he were to add cows or quota. With robots, expansion would likely require installation of an extra robot.

An open house held June 17 showcased this remarkable piece of technology. Still brand-spanking new and shiny, it was quite the sight as nearly 1,000 people toured the 40-cow interior rotary, herringbone milking parlour. It’s the biggest of its kind in Ontario and the first to be constructed entirely of stainless steel.

Cow comfort and psychology were taken into consideration when planning the facility. The rotary crowd gates are built in a way that directs cows in a circular direction prior to entering the parlour.

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This parlour operates in a counter-clockwise direction, but it is able to work in either direction depending on what works best for the individual setup.

Cows are offered a bit of feed as a teaser – an idea adopted from robotic technology – to encourage them to enter the parlour. The system establishes a cow’s ID, plus confirmation (a backup system to verify ID), making errors far less likely.

A real-time display shows each animal’s position on the rotary, and a voice message addresses concerning special-needs cows (e.g., cows in heat, treatments needed, malfunctions, early kick-off, etc.).

When special needs are detected, the cow can be automatically sorted off for breeding, hoof trimming or required treatment. Any animals that require treatment are moved into a different facility, ensuring no treated animals are milked in this parlour.

A Canadian Flag flies about Windulan Holsteins

It is termed an “intelligent rotary” and collects dozens of data points or key performance indicators, including udder health, milk letdown, speed of milking, milk quality and much more.

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As well as monitoring each cow, the parlour’s touch screen also allows for display for up to four cameras, allowing the operator to view other areas of the barn – calving pens, sorting areas or whatever is desired. In addition, it monitors the operator’s habits.

Milking cups are located on a floating arm, which ensures that kicked-off cups do not land in manure. It also features automatic take-offs. The herringbone setup is unique in that better cow interaction occurs due to all cows being in view.

Access to the centre of the parlour is gained through a wide corridor below the milking platform. There is a viewing room and office space situated above the parlour itself.

The parlour is spacious, breezy and quite comfortable. It has three large doors that can be opened to facilitate airflow and provide a breeze. It was remarkably cool inside for a hot day when toured. There is also a very large fan in the centre of the parlour, which keeps the air moving.

Mike will save many man-hours with his new system. It is expected the new system will take two people to milk 425 cows, with milking done three times per day at a rate of 160 to 200 cows per hour – much faster than with the old system. Besides family, there are two full-time employees. Everyone will be able to accomplish more now that less time is taken up with milking.

The Portenas also made changes to their calf barn by installing robotic feeders. As they had been feeding three times a day, this has also made a huge change in the time now available for other activities. “A lot more flexible this way,” Theresa commented.

Mike and Theresa have four children. Joanne has her own business and is married now; both she and her husband, Brendan, help out on the farm in their spare time.

Gina lives independently now but works full-time on the farm. Ryan also works full-time on the farm while Marco, still in high school, has chores after school.

A hearty chuckle erupted when Mike was asked what he did with his spare time. There isn’t much of that commodity, but the family does enjoy camping when on holiday.

They have recently purchased a cottage in the Kincardine area, which makes more sense to Mike, as he doesn’t have to worry about finding a vacant campsite for a trailer – the cottage is always available.

Theresa enjoys the water and also likes gardening, as evidenced by lovely gardens surrounding the house and farm. The family attends the local Missionary Church and does no non-essential work on Sundays.

For the future, expansion to the heifer barn and more quota are some of the goals. Mike and Theresa hope that in about five more years their kids will be ready to carry on, and they can ease back a bit. PD

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer in Hagersville, Ontario.

PHOTO 1: A new 40-stall interior rotary, herringbone milking parlour installed at Windulan Holsteins Ltd. is the largest of its kind in Ontario. Keeping cow comfort and psychology in mind, rotary crowd gates, shown in the back, direct cows in a circular direction prior to entering the parlour.

PHOTO 2: A Canadian flag flies above the beautiful landscaping at Windulan Holsteins Ltd. Photos by Alice Guthrie.

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