Building focus: Milking 300 cows in a 50-unit rotary parlour in Co. Galway

In this buildings focus, AgriLand travelled to Oranmore, Co. Galway, where Henry Walsh, his wife Patricia and son Enda, run a dairy farm.

The trio milk a herd of 300 Friesian and Jersey-cross cows. The farm was originally supplying milk all year round; however, in 2002, Henry switched to a spring-calving system.

Up until 2017, he was milking 280 cows in a 16-unit herringbone parlour. However, the parlour was under pressure with 18 rows of cows to milk; it was becoming physically and mentally draining.

Research

Speaking to AgriLand, Henry said: “We began researching a new parlour in 2017, with the aim of continuing with a herringbone parlour – either a 24 or 26-unit.

“We looked at milking 10 rows of cows and keeping the old regime of a different person milking morning and evening,” he explained.

After discussing the options available with his local discussion group, the decision was made to install a 50-unit rotary parlour and a cubicle shed with enough space for approximately 140 cows.

“The discussion group was extremely helpful; the group pointed out that I would still have 12 lines of cows to milk, and it wouldn’t be a huge upgrade on the parlour that was currently in place.

We were spending 40 hours/week in the parlour; something had to change – it was unsustainable.

“The discussion group felt a 44-unit rotary parlour was the minimum when starting from new with 300 cows.

“Furthermore, the fact Enda was starting his farming career with 30-40 years of milking ahead of him, it didn’t make sense to install another herringbone parlour,” he added.

Enda worked on a 60-unit rotary parlour in New Zealand for his Professional Work Experience (PWE) when on placement from University College Dublin (UCD) – where he specialised in dairy business – and felt he would be able to manage a parlour this size.

However, Henry wasn’t keen on the idea of installing such a big unit and felt a 40-unit would suffice. However, they came to an agreement and a 50-unit rotary was installed.

The objective for the Walsh family was to build a parlour that was a one-man operation and would also make it attractive for relief milkers to work in.

Features of the parlour

After deciding on a greenfield site, the next task was to begin the build. Henry made contact with Aidan Kelly – from Agri Design and Planning Services (ADPS) – who designed the project.

The shed which holds the rotary parlour is a six-bay building and measures 28.8m in length and 19m in width. The build also contains: a farm office; a changing room; a toilet; a shower; and a kitchen area.

Floor plan – PDF version

The 50-unit Waikato machine consists of: automatic cluster removers (ACRs); auto-teat spray pods; and an auto-wash system.

When it comes to heating the water, there is a heat exchanger incorporated into the design, with a gas water heater to heat the water in the parlour. The flogas water heater system provides instant hot water up to 85°C.

There is an automatic feeding system installed in the unit. There is no auto identification / cow ID in place; however, if the Walsh family choose to install it, there won’t be any issues in doing so. Currently, there is a flat feeding system in use.

The bulk milk tank has a storage capacity of 22,000L, with a heat recovery system and storage for up to three days.

There is also an AI room to the left of the rotary where the cows exit. This design includes a hinged mesh AI area to within 50mm of the rotary platform and there is an AI room directly behind it.

In an attempt to keep the walls around the rotary parlour clean, these were lined with PVC.

In addition, instead of installing the traditional flushing system that is incorporated in most milking parlours, Henry decided to install a backing scraper. This offers a cleaner finish on the yard and also reduces the amount of water being used on the farm.

Other features include: a drafting gate; and a 22t meal bin.

Milking time

The main problem with the old milking parlour was that seven hours of the day were spent in the pit.

The rotary has not only reduced the time in the parlour, but it has also reduced the number of people needed to milk the cows.

I see it takes Enda 55 minutes to milk the cows; we are milking the cows just as quick now as we were 20 years ago when we had 50 cows.

Cow flow is very good with 300 cows being milked in an hour and 20 minutes. This is from when the first cluster is put on and includes the washing period after milking.

“Cows used to be three hours in the collecting yard morning and evening, and this was reducing the amount of time they spent grazing and lying out in the field,” Henry added.  

Another added benefit of this build is that grazing time has increased, as cows are being milked quickerSince milking started in the new parlour in February, cows are spending two hours less standing in the yard.

Collecting yard

The collecting yard is big enough to hold 400 cows, which will accommodate the possibility of expanding their herd in the future.

The collecting yard is 43m in length and measures 14.4m wide. Cows are fed meal at every milking; this means cow flow in and out of the parlour is excellent.

To aid cow flow, there is a 4m angle at the front of the collecting yard to angle the cows towards the race. The only disadvantage of this is the scraper can’t go past the start of the angle; animal faeces have to be scraped manually as far as the scraper.

A slatted tank – located at the rear of the build – collects the animal faeces from the backing scraper gate and the two scrapers from the cubicle shed.

Cubicle Shed

The decision was made to build a cubicle shed beside the new milking parlour. The cubicle shed consists of over 130 cubicles with a calving area at the front on the shed; there is also enough feed space for 200 cows.

The cubicle shed is beside the current out-wintering pad, which is convenient if a cow gets in difficulty calving. It allows for easy access from the pad to the new calving area.

Henry and Enda decided on one design which was then adapted and changed to meet specific requirements. The drawings were finalised and the planning was lodged in December 2017. Planning permission was granted on February 23, 2018.

Building commenced in April 2018, with the first cows milked in the parlour in February of this year (2019).

Commenting on the build, Henry said: “I am very happy with how the project turned out. Obviously, there are some things I would go back and change.

“For example, the 4m angle at the front of the collecting yard – where the cows enter the rotary – there wasn’t a need for it to be so long.

“However, the objective was to build a milking parlour that required only one person to operate and that’s what we have achieved,” he concluded.

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