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Automation promises big cost savings at milking

The numbers stack up for automatic dipping and flushing, reports Chris Lyddon.

ADF’s automatic dipping and flushing system saves time and money while making the cows healthier, says James Duke, the company founder and inventor of the system.

Using an example of a business milking 300 cows twice a day, he runs through the costs. The labour cost, assuming a salary of £30,000 a year, and extra labour plus expenses such as National Insurance, holiday, housing and other employment costs of £10,000, comes to £17.02 an hour.

Twenty-three millilitres of teat spray at £1 a litre would cost just £5,097 a year. Liners, doing 2,500 milkings at £26 a pack, would cost £2,277. The labour cost of all that dipping and flushing at 12 seconds to dip and 2.3 seconds to flush (based on an average per cow if 5% of clusters were rinsed) would be £14,910 a year. The cost of not having an ADF system totals £22,224 a year, says Mr Duke, and the farmer is only rinsing 5% of clusters, whereas with ADF he is rinsing 100%.

The shocking thing is the cost of mastitis. With the loss of milk and the price of treatment, for a 300-cow herd the cost comes to £94,838 a year. The potential savings from using ADF equipment on a contract hire basis over five years are just under £419,000, he says.

“If we go back to the old way it was done, manually, we’ve got the guy working in a parlour; it isn’t easy, stress levels are quite high because he’s trying to do two jobs at once. He’s trying to milk the cows and attempting a post-milking routine simultaneously, and as he’s trying to milk the cows the cows are finishing. All these parlours have automatic detaches now so the units are coming off all over the place.

“If you imagine a 20-point parlour, you’ve got 20 points there that are coming off willy-nilly. You’ve got cows finishing all over the milking parlour.”

The herdsman cannot break off his milking routine to spray those cows efficiently. That means not being able to protect the teat of the cow within a few seconds of the end of milking.

“At the end of milking, the udder has been subjected to vacuum for five minutes, “ Mr Duke explains. “Potentially you have got negative pressure in the udder. The teat canal is wide open because it has just delivered 15 or 20 litres of milk.

“The cow has bacteria living on her skin. All the time they are on the skin they’re doing no harm at all, but if those bacteria get into the udder it’s catastrophic because the cow’s very likely to become mastitic. Then you’ll get a high cell count because of the white blood cells trying to kill the bacteria.

“We are dipping the teat within a second at the end of milking every time. We’re denying that bacteria from the skin and those droplets of potentially grubby milk on the end of the teats from being drawn up into the udder after the end of milking by spraying that teat with disinfectant, literally within a second at the end of milking.”

Mr Duke points out that if spraying was being done manually, it could be more than a minute before the herdsman got to the cow – and that’s too late.

“That’s the first secret, and the second thing we do is, once the unit has been removed, is sanitise the liners so that we’re not moving bacteria from cow to cow,” he says.

“If you milk a mastitic cow those bacteria will be sitting on the liner and you’ll move them from the first cow via the liner to the second cow and indeed for up to eight cows afterwards. It’s a bit like us all sharing one pot of yoghurt in the middle of the room with one spoon and expecting everybody to use the same spoon.

“We wouldn’t consider it, so why should it be acceptable for us to make all our prize cows share the same liner without washing it between uses? That has a dramatic effect in stopping the cross-contamination between cows as well.”

Mr Duke says the ADF system also takes a lot of stress out of the milking routine.
“In fact the time and motion studies that have been done showed that the savings were far greater than one would expect, just from automating the dipping and flushing. Cows flowed better through the parlour. They were able to be exited more quickly because they didn’t have to wait to be sprayed.

“The potential savings from using ADF equipment on a contract hire basis over five years are just under £419,000”.

“The other thing that farmers often tell me, particularly the ones who have had the ADF equipment for a few years, is that they’re getting more longevity. Because the cows aren’t getting sick they’re productive for more lactations. From a financial viewpoint that’s fantastic.”

The depreciation is far less on each animal, Mr Duke points out.

“If you get seven lactations out of her instead of five, you’ve got seven for the price of five. You want to be milking cows because cows are far more efficient than young heifers. In a young heifer’s first year of milk production you are still having to feed her for weight gain. A cow is fully mature and she is converting feed into milk, rather than weight.”

There is one final benefit. “If you don’t need all your replacements, you have the extra revenue from selling the surplus heifers,” Mr Duke concludes.