Recently, Agriland was down in north Tipperary to chat to dairy farmer, Padraig (Paudie) Brennan, about his new 32-unit fast-exit milking parlour which was only commissioned two weeks ago.

The Tipperary-native farms alongside his father Patrick, and together they are currently milking 260 cows, with eyes of possibly pushing this on with the installation of the new parlour in the future.

Padraig, who is a 2019 Dairy Business graduate from University College Dublin (UCD), said that a gradual increase in cow numbers year-on-year had seen them grow out of their old parlour.

The task of just milking the cows became longer and longer to a point this year, where it was taking over three hours to complete milking in the morning.

Having added on units to the parlour over the years to a point where there were 19 units and no more could be added, it was still a laborious and time-consuming task.

Furthermore, space was at a minimum in the collecting yard so, in 2020, Padraig and his father looked at their options to see where they could make their life that bit easier and find a more efficient and time-saving way of milking their cows.

Speaking to Agriland on his farm, Padraig said: “Everything was going against us in the old parlour, we had added on units to it over the last few years to a stage where we had 19-units. We couldn’t add any more as we hit the channel at the back.

“Furthermore, we were limited with the collecting yard. We couldn’t make it any bigger. If we had gone and tried to expand the old parlour we would have been rightly snookered, as we would have been left with a smaller L-shaped collecting yard that would have been a nightmare to work with.

“Before we moved into the new parlour we were milking 13 rows of cows in a parlour with no cluster removers and it was taking us the guts of three hours in the morning and two and half hours in the evening to milk with two people in the pit.

“The whole milking process started to back up three or four years ago when we reached 160-170 cows, as we hit 10 rows when we had 16-units. We added three more units but we were back to square one when we reached 200 cows.

“So we had to look at our options to where we could make the whole milking process more efficient and less time-consuming.”

L:R: Patrick and Padraig Brennan

Site and design

The Brennans wanted to keep the new milking parlour to the front of the yard where the original parlour was.

The reason for this was mainly because the milk lorry didn’t actually have to enter the yard to collect milk from the bulk tank, and it just made life easier for everyone involved to keep the parlour as close as possible to where the old parlour was.

Therefore, they decided to fit the new milking parlour into what was once the calving shed which was right beside the old 19-unit parlour.

This round-roof shed where the cows calved was in worse condition than what the Brennans had originally thought, and so they had to spruce it up to make it fit for purpose.

Concrete wise, a nice bit of work was involved to get the site ready for a parlour to go into and then a new collecting yard had to be laid down as well. Despite this, Padraig said the cost of the concrete work turned out to be very reasonable.

Detailed drawings of the new 32-unit fast-exit parlour can be seen below. Click images to enlarge.

Going with a fast-exit parlour over a rotary

The Brennans looked at every possible option to them in terms of how they could go about milking their cows.

In the end, they narrowed it down to either a rotary or a fast-exit parlour – with the Brennans choosing the latter option in the end.

Speaking about the decision to go with a fast-exit parlour, Padraig said: “We couldn’t see any way to justify putting in a rotary parlour. Numbers wise, we think, you’d have to be up on 350-400 cows to justify it.

“We went with a Dairymaster fast-exit parlour for a number of reasons, but Covid-19 played a big part in that decision. We were going to try and extend the old parlour somehow but parts were getting hard to get due to the pandemic.

“So we decided to go look for a new parlour and landed on Dairymaster. Dairymaster have a good back-up service, with parts if ever needed, easy to get a hold of and from talking to other farmers, it was only good things we hearing back about their parlours.

“We went with the fast-exit parlour because when we looked at the bailing parlours, we said if we go with one of them, you might as well lift the trough out of the way as well while you’re at it.

“For the sake of an extra bit of shed, you were looking at 11ft extra either side of the parlour – we felt it was worth it in the long run.

“With the bailing parlours, if you’re using a feed-to-yield system, and the cow that gets that extra meal doesn’t eat all of it and this cow behind her pulls up and starts finishing it and you are at the back of a 32-unit parlour trying to get a cow out and new row in – it’s a fair jog up that pit to get that cow to move on out of a trough.

“So, we felt it would be easier if you could lift the trough out of the way and have all the cows exit at the one time.

“So far, it’s been unbelievable how quickly we can get the cows out of the parlour. The slowest it’s taking them is 30 seconds and that’s after only four days being in it. The majority are out within 10-15 seconds. That’s a big reason we went with the fast-exit – just to save time.

“With the rotary, we felt with it, you don’t really get to see the cows enough. Once it goes a quarter of the way around, you don’t see the cows again. There’s ACRs and teat sprays out the other side that do that job for you, so unless you have collars to tell you something is up with a cow, you don’t really get that much contact time with the cows.

“Whereas with the fast-exit, you have more contact time with the cows and also you can get cows in and out of the parlour quick – so you have the best of both worlds.

“With the rotary as well, with the ACR’s they are very good and work almost every time but there is always a cow that will milk slow and that will need to be put on manually and with this fast-exit parlour, you can make that decision as you are moving up and down seeing every cow in the pit, whereas with the rotary, you’re taking a chance.

“Realistically anyway, we wouldn’t have been able to fit no bigger than a 42-bail rotary and at that, it would be too small and inefficient. You’d want a 50-bail realistically, we felt.

“In terms of the site and what would work best and make our job easier and more efficient, a fast-exit parlour ticked all the boxes for us.”

Features of the 32-unit fast-exit parlour

Padraig said they didn’t go all out when it came to deciding what spec of a machine to go with. They got their namesake Padraic Brennan and his team at Firpark Dairy Services to install the 32-unit fast-exit parlour. Padraig said they were very efficient and helpful throughout the installation.

They opted for ACR’s, a dumpline, batch feeding and an auto-wash system. They didn’t opt for a cluster flush system, auto-ID or feed-to-yield system.

Padraig added: “We installed the Switflo commanders there so if we ever want to add the auto-ID for example we can.

“It can work out expensive if you go top of the range spec, so we said we would ease ourselves in. Considering we came from a very basic parlour, what we have in the new parlour is a dream for us.

“With the way it’s going, you won’t be able to afford to have a bad cow and those features we didn’t install will be needed at some stage down the line so that we can get as much information about our cows as possible – so at least we have the commanders there that we can add to it whenever easily.”

The Brennans also put in mats for the cows in the parlour as well as from themselves in the pit. The mats were put in for the cows simply to save their feet as they are turning into the troughs twice a day and it could be hard on them if they were standing on concrete over time.

Collecting yard and exiting the parlour

To avoid similar problems with the old collecting yard, the Brennans didn’t spare any concrete when it came to forming a new collecting yard for the new parlour.

Padraig said that the new collecting yard is holding the 260 cows currently and if you take that 32 cows can walk straight into the parlour, this number could be pushed up to nearly 300.

Once cows are finished milking and the arms go up, cows can make their way down towards the existing exit race which includes a drafter and leads them back out to the grazing platform.

Padraig said cows have roughly seven or eight minutes to head towards the exit race before the next row of cows are milked and ready to go. He said that so far, no cows have been hanging around once milked, and are happy to head on back out.

‘Huge improvement’

Looking at the cost of the parlour and the work around it, the overall cost came to €435,000.

However, having applied and being eligible for a grant under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS II) and being able to reclaim the VAT back, the cost of the new parlour and associated work around it when the grant and VAT reclaimed back is deducted stands at €325,000.

Speaking about the decision to put in the new parlour, Padraig said: “We were lucky in that we bought the parlour last year and we didn’t have a huge amount of building work to do – which all in all, helped to keep costs down greatly, in a year where it has been very expensive to build or buy anything.

“The parlour itself is a huge change and improvement from what we had. We weren’t used to that novelty of having even ACR’s for example.

“The swingover arms keeps the pit clear and it’s a wider pit too. Before, when there would be the two of us in the pit, you’d be getting in each other’s way and constantly be ducking and diving between the arms of the clusters.”

Speaking about the milking time in the new fast-exit parlour, he added: “We have about eight rows of cows going through at the minute.

“We are hammering through them; it’s only day four of the cows going through it and they are taking to it without any hassle.

“When we are fully up and running next year, I’d say that parlour will get through 200 cows an hour – which will be massive for us in terms of freeing up time.

“It’ a nice time of year to get them used to it as they are next or near to dry off. In spring, if you had to push them through that parlour when your under pressure, you’d drive them mad and you could screw some of them up for the year from being spooked from it – so now is a nice relaxing time to get used it,” Padraig concluded by saying.