Is it time for an upgrade to your milking system?
Use this guide to decide if it’s time for a milking equipment upgrade.
By Steve Pretz
Properly functioning milking equipment is essential to meet your milk quality goals. But when your machines are giving you trouble, how do you know if it’s just time for maintenance, or if you need an entire system upgrade?
With profit margins tight, it can be tempting to call a repair person to keep equipment going as long as possible. These continuous small repairs may seem like a lesser cost than investing in new equipment. But keeping equipment going as long as possible may be detrimental to udder health, milking efficiency and your bottom line.
Equipment that isn’t in top condition can extend milking times, decrease completeness of milk out and negatively affect overall udder health. The net result is a less healthy herd and lower milk quality premiums.
The biggest telltale sign it’s time to upgrade is to add up your repair bills. It’s easy to ignore the smaller bills, but when you total the amount of repairs done in the past 6 to 12 months, you may be spending more than you thought.
A good rule of thumb: If you spend more than 10% of the equipment’s purchase price in repairs each year, it’s time to upgrade. For example if you spent $40,000 on the equipment and you now spend more than $4,000 every year in repairs – you’re probably spending too much.
Next, evaluate how many machines are running in manual instead of automatic. This can be another indicator an upgrade may be needed. The only mode properly functioning milking equipment should be in is automatic. A mechanically reliable milking parlor will increase efficiency of your parlor.
How often equipment should be upgraded really depends on the herd and the owner. Larger operations use milking equipment 24 hours per day and will upgrade more frequently to take advantage of technology improvements. If a herd has not grown, every 20 years for an upgrade is pretty common – if the system was designed properly from the beginning. But very few people have not grown in the past 20 years in either production per cow and or cow numbers.
Technology used to milk cows also has changed significantly over the years. In the older systems, pulsators only had three or four settings. Modern pulsators have hundreds of combinations of pulsation settings to adjust to the different liner choices available.
Newer liners and pulsation settings allow producers to adjust the touch point of the liner to the teat to improve milk efficiency and completeness of milk out for their individual herds. In most instances the milking unit, liner and pulsators can be upgraded independently without doing a complete overhaul. These small tweaks and adjustments can lead to dramatic increases in system performance and overall udder health with minimum expense. An experienced, professional milking system dealer can assist in making these changes.
Upgrading certain pieces of equipment can definitely make a difference for an operation. A herd that we worked with in California is a perfect example. This particular operation was milking in a double-40 parlor and was considering building a small hospital parlor to take care of special needs animals, as well as to accommodate 500 more cows. By simply upgrading the pulsation system, liner shell combination, reducing milk hose length and adjusting some detacher settings, this herd was able to milk 500 more cows in the current facility; a much smaller investment than building a new parlor.
Proper parlor set up, proper milking procedures and cow flow management are all part of running a parlor as efficiently as possible. But many people fail to use their milking equipment to its fullest.
Before jumping into an upgrade, ask your local dealer for an equipment inspection. It may just be time to clean pulsators, change vacuum filters and check detacher settings – ensuring all milking equipment is operating properly for your herd’s specifications. Or, it may be time for an equipment upgrade.
To prevent any future risk of machine induced mastitis infections, regular scheduled maintenance on your milking system is highly recommended.
Remember, milking equipment is used more hours per day than any other equipment on the dairy operation, and it is used to harvest the primary product marketed from your farm. It is critical that it is continually maintained to optimize your herd’s milking efficiency and milk quality performance.
• Steve Pretz is national sales manager with GEA Farm Technologies. Contact him via e-mail Steve.Pretz@gea.com or phone 817-578-5821.
Many equipment manufacturers will offer trade-in or upgrade programs for their customers. It may be worth seeing what’s available since labor for maintenance can be very costly – many times more than the cost of the parts themselves. And, when it’s rebuilt and repaired it’s still old technology. Sometimes it truly is less expensive to buy new and have a warranty than to repair what’s old.