Installing automated parlour systems has reduced milking time and increased milk yields on one West Sussex-based unit. And that’s just the start.
A desire to reduce milking time and to accommodate more cows, led James Lywood to install two new technologies. The first is ADF’s automatic cluster flushing and teat dipping system to his 18:18 herringbone parlour. And just four months later he added the company’s intelligent-venting system – InVent.
James runs his family’s pedigree herd of 200-cows, plus 140 followers, at Battlehurst Farm, near Billingshurst, on a high-input-high-output, all-year-round calving system. Late lactation, dry cows and young stock are grazed, but the rest of the milking herd is housed.
The flushing and dipping system was installed relatively recently, in August 2020, with a view to saving time in the parlour and allow James to push the milking cow numbers up to 230 head by 2022. “Each milking was taking 3.5 hours. So adding more cows – two or three more rows – would have pushed this to at least four hours per milking.
“I was sure this system was a way to milk more cows through the same parlour and with the same staff without taking more time.”
And he wasn’t disappointed.
Cows are milked twice a day by one person, either herdsman George Jones or James, and they’re both pleased with the performance of the automatic cluster flushing and teat dipping – not least because it’s shaved 20 minutes off milking time.
“It’s done what we hoped it would do, and we know we’re not compromising udder hygiene or the milking routine. If anything, automating part of it should bring greater consistency and make sure nothing is missed,” says James.
He likes to keep the milking routine simple: “I don’t like things to be complicated. We pre-spray with iodine and wipe teats once. And we only pre-milk high SCC or mastitis ‘troublemakers’ – we know our cows well. For the majority of milkers, it’s a case of spray, wipe and clusters on. And the ADF system does the rest once milking is complete.
“It’s given us peace of mind. We know that all teats have been dipped properly and all the clusters are cleaned thoroughly between cows. And it’s saving time. So, as we begin to add more cows we’ll be able to milk the larger herd and keep within three hours in the parlour.. This also means the interval between the two daily milkings will stay the same.”
He adds that they have actually been able to start milking a little later in the morning, at 4.30am. And the afternoon milking starts at 3.00pm.
Milking routine and working conditions are just as important to staff as they are to the herd. “All our staff work a five-day week and milk for 10 days out of every 14.”
The herd’s average somatic cell count has always been pretty good, according to James, but it’s fallen by 15,000 cells/ml since installing the ADF and InVent – the company’s intelligent-venting system, which optimises pressure in the liner throughout milking. Average SCC now stands at 113,000 cells/ml for the herd.
James and his team are also on top of their game when it comes to preventing mastitis. Prior to installing the ADF system, only 7% of cows required antibiotic treatment for mastitis. This is now down to just 4% in 12 months. “We do see other cases in the herd, but they self-cure with NSAID treatment and a little TLC,” adds James.
James added InVent to his ADF system in December 2020, after a conversation with local dealer Tom Duke, from Duke Milking Solutions. “It didn’t take a lot to convince me, on the back of the results we’d seen with the ADF. Once I understood the additional benefits the technology offers, which go far beyond quicker and ‘kinder’ milking, it was a no brainer,” says James.
“I could see more potential to fine tune and to save time in the parlour, even though James’ system and set up is already very thorough and efficient,” adds Tom. “I was confident that he would see a benefit to installing the intelligent-venting system.”
The technology works by preventing excessive liner vacuum, which causes teat swelling and other problems. This not only slows milk flow, but it’s also uncomfortable for the cow. Stress and discomfort can then lead to incomplete milking.
The system comprises a valve, which automatically opens and adjusts the vacuum level at the mouth of the liner, if the vacuum exceeds 10kPa. It allows clean air to enter the chamber and reduces the vacuum to between 10kPa and 20kPa. This is the so-called ‘sweet spot’ for gentle but effective milking.
And since installation milk yields have increased by an extra 0.5 litres per milking per cow. That’s a litre a day and, potentially, around 300 extra litres per lactation for freshly calved cows. The herd is currently averaging 11,300 litres of milk at 4.6% butterfat and 3.5% protein.
In addition to the 20 mins shaved off by the automatic flushing and dipping system, InVent has cut milking time by a further 10 minutes, pushing up daily time saved in the milking parlour from 40 minutes to an hour. “If you look at that during the course of a year, that’s a lot of hours saved,” says James.
“We also know our cows are being milked out more gently and completely – there are teat condition and udder health gains to be made here. And stress is also kept to a minimum – for the cows and also, ultimately, the person in the pit.
“Kicking, fidgeting, defecating – it’s all reduced. And these calmer cows then go back out into the sheds to drink, eat and lie down. There has to be other hidden health, fertility, productivity and efficiency benefits to be had here.
“Cows should also, ultimately, complete more lactations in the herd. Only time will tell, but I’m excited to see more benefits become apparently as we move forward," he adds.