Parlor Performance Evaluations: A valuable tool for all farms

How do you know that you are training your workforce on the correct protocols? Evaluating your parlor is a critical step for milker development.

A VaDia device is attached to the milking equipment to record vacuum in individual milking. This is used to analyze and improve protocols.

What occurs in the parlor determines in great part many aspects of your operation. Milk quality, quantity, key aspects of cow care and welfare, all are affected by the employees who work in the parlor. Developing a training program is key to ensure the success of the farm. However, do you know if you are using the correct protocols for milking? Do they provide what your cows need for care and maximum efficiency? These questions can easily be answered by doing a Parlor Performance Evaluation (PPE) in your parlor.

During a PPE, we do a thorough examination of parlor procedures. Extension educators use vacuum recording devices to analyze many individual milkings for markers such as claw vacuum at peak flow, time of over milking, time to peak flow (bimodal milking), and machine on time, among other metrics that can provide a lot of information regarding milking routines. Additional observations are also recorded in the parlor regarding pre-dip contact time, prep stimulation time, prep lag time and teat end mappings. Once completed, everything is organized in a summary report that can provide valuable information about how your parlor is operating or if your protocols are in line with current recommendations for optimal milk harvest.

Often, these reports reveal surprises that were holding the farm back. Research has shown that a high percentage of bimodal milking events can increase milk left in the udder thus affecting herd production and revenue. Teat end mapping will provide important data to improve your milk quality by identifying hyperkeratosis, ringing and teat color changes at the moment of unit detachment. Improved procedures can also decrease machine on time improving teat ends and improving parlor turn time. In a recent podcast episode, we talked with Roger Thomson about the values of this process. He shared some of the positive outcomes of improving protocols to increase a cow’s experience during milking which can also improve labor morale and contribute to retention of employees.

Somatic Cell Counts (SCC) and other metrics of quality are always helpful, but they might not fully show opportunities for improvement. I recently worked with a farm with a SCC of 80-85 thousand, which is excellent, but after performing a PPE, we discovered they had averaged 44% bimodal milking events. Research from MSU has shown that bimodals can reduce the amount of milk harvested from 3 pounds up to 7 pounds at each milking event. We recommended mild changes in routine to improve the lag time and allow time for milk let down to occur. Reducing the incidence of bimodal milkings should result in increased production and improve the milking experience for cows. Thomson confirms this in our podcast with some examples of the positive impacts that a PPE can have on a farm.

The information learned from a PPE is very helpful for herd/parlor managers and it can have a positive impact on training programs. Milkers who received tailored training based on their own metrics obtained from a PPE are typically more engaged and interested than those receiving a theory-only training that doesn’t directly apply to their situation or doesn’t focus on the main point their team needs to improve.

Training is another added benefit of doing a PPE with MSU Extension. These evaluations are most times coupled with a training program to further develop the knowledge and the skill of your milking personnel. A training program that combines theory and practice backed by a PPE can be the recipe for success needed to make improvements on the farm. Our milker training program can be coupled with a PPE and can be offered to your farm in both English and Spanish. As Thomson mentioned, labor and people are key to improve milk quality and the efficiency in the parlor.

For additional information or if you are interested in a Parlor Performance Evaluation or milker training for your farm, we encourage you to reach Martin J Carrasquillo Mangual at carrasq1@msu.edu or call 616-994-4581.

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