Buildings and equipment for dairy farming

Within this section you will find details relating to the siting, design and building dimensions for new milking parlours and dairy cow accommodation. The machinery section is devoted to manufacturers of specialist dairying equipment whilst the new products section relates to new and innovative products relative to dairying.

Buildings - comfortable cubicles

The message is simple:- An uncomfortable cubicle means, a higher refusal rate, cows lie down for less time, they are dirtier and more prone to mastitis, ruminate less often and are more likely to suffer injury or lameness – often resulting in earlier culling.

A cubicle should satisfy 3 basic requirements:

  • give enough room for the cow to lie down in comfort
  • allow additional space which may be "shared" to be used when lying down and getting up
  • provide at the same time enough movement control over the cow when using the beds and hence to keep cows clean

A wide range of factors influence cubicle comfort, efficiency and hygiene. The main ones are:

  • stall dimensions
  • stall design
  • neck rails
  • brisket board
  • cubicle bases and bedding
  • overall management of the stock and their housing

Stall dimension / stall design

The major and most relevant change in the design of cubicles recently has been the removal of the back leg.

Along with the sloped bottom rail these adjustments prevent cows getting trapped and allow some space sharing between adjacent stalls.

When lying a 600 kg cow needs 1680 mm body space (front knees to tail) with an additional 450 mm for her head and neck.

To enable a cow to lie down and rise comfortably "lunge" space is also required and is the most important aspect of stall design. It is the key to providing stalls that cows will use readily.

The lunge space can be provided:

  • at the front of her stall by lengthening the overall cubicle base by an additional 300 mm
  • at the front of a head to head stall by allowing head space to be shared
  • by providing "side lunge" space into the adjacent stall. In this case it is important that the design of the cubicle division allows a vertical "free space" for head and neck movement
Suggested stall dimensions for 550 – 600 kg cow
Width (clear) Stall length (slide lunge) Stall length (forward lunge) Neck rail height Brisket board from kerb
1100 - 1180 mm 2130 mm 2440 mm 1050 mm 1680 mm

Brisket board and neck rails

The modern stall division now provides extra "space" for cows, so brisket boards and neck rails have become more important to help keep cubicle beds clean.

Brisket boards are necessary to prevent cows lying too far forward, especially in forward lunge cubicles.

Neck rails " push" cows back when standing. They should be at least 1050 mm above the stall bed to avoid cows hitting them too early when they are rising. If they are placed too low they will keep cows from using the cubicles. To enable the neck rails to be fitted at the proper height the top rails of the cubicles should be designed accordingly.

Cubicle bases

100 mm of a straight slope from the front to the back provides drainage and helps to prevent cows from creeping forward when lying, especially where no brisket boards are fitted. Cows also prefer facing uphill when they lie.

Cubicle beds and bedding

Various trials carried out to check the effectiveness of cow mats have shown that the lying time increases in general with the softness of the bed: 

Bare concrete Lying time
Concrete screed (insulated) 7 hours
Hard rubber mat  
Deeper soft rubber mat  
50 mm chopped straw  
Cow mattresses 14 hours

With the introduction of leg less cubicles wall to wall mattresses was a natural progression, allowing for easier installationand maintenance. There are a number of suppliers on the market and the main considerations when purchasing should include: -

  • durability, both of the surface matting and the retention of the comfort factor (long – term resistance to compaction)
  • a surface that is waterproof to prevent saturation of the cushion material underneath.

Wet mats support bacterial growth and become slippery leading to possible mastitis and leg injuries.

General Housing and Cubicle Management

As part of the overall housing environment it is necessary to clean passageways regularly, thus minimising fouling of the cubicle beds with dirty feet. Adequate ventilation is essential to avoid condensation and wetting of cubicles. Regular cleaning down of dung pats and application of a small amount of bedding, probably fine dry sawdust, helps absorb any moisture carried on the cows feet and keeps the cubicle bed clean and comfortable.

Parlours - milking parlour design and hygiene standards

Modern parlour designs have been developed to cater for increased herd size and incorporate automation in the herringbone, auto-tandem and rotary configurations.

Assessing Milking Parlour Suitability For Your Herd

Michael Garvey, CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser

Herd sizes have continued to grow in Northern Ireland. The average herd size is now in excess of 70 cows. Almost half of the cows in Northern Ireland are in herds over 100 cows. This has increased markedly in recent years. (see table below)

Year Percentage of cows in herds with over 100 cows
1992 18
2000 30
2006 49

Against this background many farmers are milking in unsuitable parlours and need to invest in a new parlour to suit their needs. With high labour costs, even problems accessing labour, and higher yielding cows, the recent trend has been to install milking parlours with a greater number of units to be handled by one operator.

Installing a new parlour is an expensive, once in a generation investment and should be planned carefully. 

Take the common example of a father and son milking 120 cows in a parlour that has evolved from a 6 point herringbone originally commissioned for 40 cows. The stall work is old and the building cannot accommodate further renovation beyond the current 8 points: 16 stall arrangement.

To remain in business they need to invest in a new parlour. What size is the new parlour they will need? 

Parlours should be sized to complete the actual milking in 1hour 30 minutes and should allow for future herd expansion.

It is possible to milk seven rows of cows through a medium sized parlour each hour. Consequently with reasonable efficiency six rows can be milked through a large parlour in an hour.

More units, more operators or automation can be used to maintain the speed of the operation. With Automatic Cow Identification, the operator need only prepare the cows and place clusters. Auto Id allows automation of meal feeding and milk recording.

Doubled up parlours reduce the number of stalls required but increase the number of units, this adds to the initial expense and running / maintenance costs. The major disadvantage is that this extra cost is not reflected in the performance.

It is unlikely that any new parlour should be installed without automatic cluster removers fitted as standard.

The table below shows the number of cows that can be milked by various swing over or equivalent doubled up parlours. A herd of 120 cows milked in 1hour 30 minutes will need 12 milking points in a swing over configuration or 20 milking points in a doubled up parlour. 

Cows milked in 1 hr 30 mins Swing over parlour Doubled up parlour
120 12 : 24 20 : 20
150 15 : 30 24 : 24
180 18 : 36 28 : 28
200 20 : 40 32 : 32
250 24 : 28 40 : 40

The next table below details the father and son options to milk the current herd of 120 cows or allowing for expansion to 180 cows:

Herd size One operator Two operators
Current 120 cows 12 points : 24 stalls 20 points : 20 stalls
Expaned 180 cows 18 points : 36 stalls 28 points : 28 stalls

Maximising the number of milking units has always been seen as the simplest solution to reducing time spent milking. However as parlour lengths’ increase to accommodate greater numbers of milking points it has been necessary to change the stance of the cow in herringbone arrangements. Thus the traditional 30 degree parlour has been largely replaced in new installations by more steeply cranking the cows. Greater numbers of cows are stalled in shorter parlours as stall work moves through 50, 70, 80 and ultimately 90 degrees.

The table below shows the consequence for the parlour building is that pit remains relatively short but the overall parlour width increases.

Parlout type   Overall length (m) Overall width (m)
12 points : 24 stalls 30 degree 14.9 5.2
  50 degree 13.5 5.9
  90 degree 10.8 6.8
20 points : 20 stalls 30 degree 13.1 5.2
  50 degree 12 5.9
  90 degree 9.5 6.8
18 points : 36 stalls 30 degree 20.4 5.2
  50 degree 18.1 5.9
  90 degree 14.8 6.8
28 points : 28 stalls 30 degree 18.6 5.2
  50 degree 16.6 5.9
  90 degree 13.5 6.8

In addition to parlour type and output, there are other key considerations in design that affect performance:

  • cow collection / ease of entry to the parlour
  • cow exit and drafting

The above site shows work in progress where an existing parlour is being replaced on a brown site. Central to the shed is the parlour building with pit and internal walls already constructed to accommodate a 28:28 50 degree low level parlour.

At the bottom of the picture use is being made of an existing collection yard. When work is complete a rectangular yard directly behind the parlour will provide collection for all the cows during milking.

To the left of the parlour is the cow exit and drafting area. The central slat covered channel marks the position of a race returning cows to their cubicles. A three way drafting gate can be used to retain cows that require specific attention.

The smooth flow of cows to the milking parlour is essential for fast milking. A rectangular collection yard in line with the parlour is best for loading cows. It should be sized to house all the cows in the herd, with a yard space of 1.3m2 per cow.

A clear, well lit approach with a slight upward incline promotes cow entry. As collection yards are used throughout the year slats are the most appropriate for ease of cleaning and reducing the soiling of clusters with manure from cows’ feet.

As significant amounts of concentrates are now fed outside the parlour there is an increased need for backing gates. A manually operated gate fitted in the collection yard at one-third of it’s length from the parlour, to control cow movement as milking progresses. Various types of automated backing gates have been fitted locally to reduce yard size. These are normally suspended from an overhead gantry and can operate to bring forward follow on batches.

The milking parlour exit area should be sized according to the number of stalls in the parlour to allow quick change over of batches. It is important to have a system for drafting individual cows as they leave the parlour.
Drafting at the parlour exit can be as simple as a hinged gate and compressed air ram at the cow exit. In the shedding position cows for insemination, pregnancy checks, vaccinations, or other labour intensive tasks can be diverted from the main group as they leave the parlour.

Where there is auto id available, cows can be diverted automatically in three different directions according to management needs with no labour input required. Cows are accurately sorted and normal cow flows are not disrupted. It provides gentle cow treatment and maximum cow traffic speed away from the parlour. 

Finally the ultimate aim is to get value for your investment. Plan to allow for milking an expanded herd in no more than 1 hour 30 mins. Make maximum use of your site to facilitate drafting cows.

This is a once in a generation investment, proper planning will prevent costly mistakes being made.

Preventing problems from stray electricity in your milking parlour

Michael Garvey, Dairying Development Adviser Armagh, CAFRE, Greenmount Campus

Stray voltage in excess of 1.5 volts AC has been associated with increases in the level of clinical mastitis in dairy cows. The clinical infections usually occur in cows that already have sub-clinical infections. Finding the cause of stray voltage is generally not simple, because the on-farm and off-farm sources act together and can vary with time. In order to minimise stray voltage a high standard of electrical installation is required. All electrical installation in milking parlours should comply with the National Electrical Safety Standard – BS 7671 - Requirements for Electrical Installation. This standard relates to wiring, socket outlets and lighting fittings.
The following rules should be adhered to:

  • all metallic cow and milker contact objects should be bonded to form an equipotential cage. Independent bonding of each major object to an earth bar is advisable. At least 4 mm2 covered copper wire with non-corroding attachment screws is required
  • an earth rod should be provided outside the parlour or dairy and joined to the earth bar by labelled plastic coated 16 mm2 copper wire with non-corroding secure attachment. It is essential that this is well constructed and protected from disconnection
  • an RCD (ELCB) Earth Leakage Circuit Breaker should always be fitted to the main fuse board in the parlour. A 30 mA RCD will give very good protection. All sockets must have a 30 mA RCD
  • as an insurance against stray current, a secondary earth may be advisable in the milkers’ pit. As this area is normally damp or wet during milking, a single 10 mm galvanised bar driven 1.5 m into the floor of the pit with moisture access around it and a permanent connection onto the main frame of the parlour will provide a very effective earth
  • never install an electric fence controller in or near a dairy or milking parlour. Also, electric fences should always have a separate earth at least 20 m away from the mains earth
  • no socket or live switches should be located in the milking parlour itself. A separate power room or blind wall in the dairy is suggested
  • in new parlours an earthed 100 mm grid of reinforcing mesh less than 50 mm deep in the concrete cow standings should be used as precaution against stray voltage

Procedure for the detection of stray voltage in milking parlours:

  • wet floor.
  • switch on all electrical equipment.
  • measure voltage AC between wet floor and rump rail, pipeline, feeders and other conductible metal objects.
  • voltage greater than 0.75 V AC indicates a possible problem.
  • switch off equipment by removing fuses until voltage is reduced.
  • if voltage remains, the cause is probably not in the parlour or dairy. Have a more comprehensive installation inspection carried out by a National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting approved electrical contractor.

CAFRE Dairy Unit

Martin Mulholland, Senior Dairying Technologist, Greenmount Campus, Cafre

The recently completed construction project aims to provide a dairy unit at Greenmount Campus to best meet the education and training needs of agriculture students and the dairy industry.  The new facilities will enable the effective delivery of knowledge and technology transfer and comply with all relevant legislation and animal welfare recommendations.
This is the fourth dairy unit built in Greenmount’s 101 year history and replaces the current unit which was opened in 1981.  The industry has changed with greater emphasis placed on cow husbandry and environmental stewardship compared to the early 1980’s.

The new facilities has 10 cubicles with additional accommodation in the pre and post calving area, a 32 point milking parlour with handling facilities specifically designed with student education paramount.

The new dairy unit also provides "best-in-class" demonstration facilities to address the following issues:

  • greenhouse gas mitigation measures
  • cow management and welfare
  • environmental Best Practice and Legislation
  • labour efficiency
  • IT adoption (including data capture)
  • market-focused production (all aspects of milk quality)
  • energy efficiency
  • efficient technical production systems
  • animal health / welfare
  • operator health and welfare

The new Cafre Dairy Unit has been designed to provide an excellent learning opportunity for CAFRE students and new entrants to the dairy industry.  The lecturers and students will be able to access data and herd information on a daily basis, ensuring the learning experience is up to date and interactive.

The new dairy unit is also available to demonstrate new and emerging technologies to dairy farmers appropriate for use on their own farm and includes:

  • flooring surfaces and cubicles for improved cow health and welfare
  • a specialised slurry management system
  • a pre and post calving transition management area
  • energy saving and monitoring equipment
  • handling facilities for a stress free environment for the dairy cow at critical stages in the production cycle

The new Cafre Dairy Unit was officially opened in early June 2013.  Over 1,000 farmers and visitors attended a series of Open Days to view the facilities in mid June.  Full design details of the new Dairy Unit will soon be made available through a series of technical articles and in the Dairy @ CAFRE section.  Further opportunities will also be available for farmers to view the facilities in use during the 2013-14 winter housing period through their local Cafre Dairying Development Adviser.

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