One of the problems in our dairy operation had been the time spent milking the cows. In 1998 it took 3 hours twice a day to milk 120 cows. One person spending 6 hours milking didn’t allow much time to get anything else accomplished. Scott and I had always split the daily chores but it made for long days when anyone wanted a day away from the farm. I had contacted the area milker supply companies, but the idea of spending $100,000 to remodel or $250,000 to start over didn’t encourage me at all. I had built my current double six parlor in 1976 and it was definitely state of the art for that time. The stalls were an extremely heavy grade material, the detachers were high quality, and the weigh jars were still serviceable. We had already upgraded pulsators and vacuum pumps over the years, and our bulk storage was adequate.
Traveling around the country I had seen several dairies build very nice facilities using used equipment. Many spend some time scouting the country, but usually their time is well rewarded; finding a facility that was vacant and still had some good equipment. Sometimes dealers have used equipment they have traded for and are happy to part with it. It pays to know the value of used equipment before you start the shopping process because the prices vary widely.
We looked at several options as we planned our remodel project. We were impressed with several new and remodeled parlors, which had used the old swing concept but had added the advantage of milking between the back legs for keeping the pit area more compact. The challenge for us was that existing space didn’t allow for cows to stand at the more parallel angle with out making the pit very narrow.
In my travels, I stumbled on a vacant double four parlor which was very similar to mine, and even had the same datachers. The bulk tank, vacuum and milk pump had been sold off to others, so the former dairyman was interested in getting rid of what was left. I also found some used 2 -1/2 inch pipe at another stall barm where a new parlor had been added. These two finds helped make the decision that a remodel with used equipment was our best option. With a day spent in each barn we quickly had the needed equipment home and ready for our expansion.
This is when our seasonal advantage really paid off. We dried up the herd the day before Christmas, and the following week we began tearing out the back wall of the parlor along with all the concrete floors. Renting an air hammer and hiring a couple of farmer neighbors to assist with breaking concrete made quick work of the concrete removal. Our holding area was under roof and part of the existing parlor building. We hired a local contractor with a back-hoe on a Bobcat to dig the additional pit and drain lines. Bad weather hit before we got all the outside concrete back in but we were able to frame up a temporary wall to allow us to continue working inside, so we could get ready for new concrete. A local concrete finisher furnished two men to help set forms and we had all new concrete back inside in 6 working days. The weather broke enough that we finished the outside concrete the following day. Scott and I then spent three weeks installing the used equipment along with daily feeding chores. The local equipment dealer then sent two men and equipment to cut and ferrule stainless pipes. A surplus dealer in Pennsylvania provided us with eight used weigh jars that matched our current ones along with another pulsator controller and eight additional pulsators. Fortunately, the winter was mild enough that we could complete construction well before we began milking again the first of March. We had expanded the holding area outside the parlor prior to winter setting in, ourselves. Although the former holding area was under roof it did not have side walls. We chose to use roll up curtains to close the side walls and close off the holding area after milking. Although the costs were about the same as a permanent wall the benefits of summer cooling have been tremendous. Since we are seasonal, we won’t use the facilities in the worst weather months of January and February, so the slight inconvenience in December and March doesn’t out weight the cooling advantages in June, July and August.
One of the advantages of our pasture based system has been the lack of need for much udder preparation. The cows are always in a clean environment so udders aren’t soiled. With less time preping there is more time for the operator to hang milkers. We have returned to feeding all grain at milking time so cow flow is good into the parlor.
Our milk lines were all of adequate size because of our weigh jars and keeping smaller lines has allowed the system to wash very efficiently. Our only challenge has been that wash water cools quickly, because of all the glass surface area, especially during cooler weather. Our solution was to shorten the wash time to keep temperatures up.
We had grates in the old parlor under the cows. They were good for catching what manure dropped in the parlor and probably cut down on splatter but they also slowed to cow traffic in and out of the parlor. Now with adequate sloping back to the holding area we can quickly flush the entire parlor with high volume water. Since were vacant in January and February we don’t have problems with water freezing on the floors and we have eliminated the pumping of the grate pits.
We found that increasing from a double six to a double ten parlor actually cut milking time in half.