September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Low cost parlors often more profitable than tiestall barns

By by Kelli Boylen- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

POSTVILLE, Iowa -   ISU Extension Dairy Specialist Larry Tranel said many dairy producers believe they can't afford a parlor.
"They really need to understand how high the cost of milking in a stall barn really is," he said.
Tranel said milking in a low cost parlor versus a stall barn (tiestall or stanchion) can mean tripling the efficiency of labor, which translates into significant differences in farm profitability between milking systems.
Tranel, along with fellow ISU Dairy Specialist Jenn Bentley, presented information earlier this month about the economics of low cost parlors (LCP).
Producers milking in stall barns or antiquated parlors average 25 cows milked per person per hour. In comparison, in a well-designed parlor, producers are milking up to 75 cows per person per hour. Those figures do not include the physical strain of milking in a tiestall or stanchion barn.
Tranel said producers averaging less than 45 cows per hour should consider a low cost parlor to improve efficiency.
Tranel compared the cost per hundredweight for milking cows in different systems. The cost (including annual capital and labor costs) for a tiestall or stanchion barn averages $1.62, compared to $.87 for a low cost parlor.
"I don't know of anyone who said they would go back [to a stall barn]," Tranel said. "The comment we hear the most after people put these in is, 'I wish we had done this sooner.'"
Tranel outlined an economic breakdown of installing a low cost parlor with an 80-cow herd. The calculations look at everything from changes in utility cost to changes in milk quality. The calculations use an average milk production of 65 pounds, $18 per hundredweight of milk and 5.5 percent interest.
When transitioning to a low cost parlor, production per cow is estimated to increase 6.5 pounds, or about 10 percent. Although some of this increase could possibly be due to the milking facilities, it is likely often due to higher cow comfort in new housing facilities built at the same time. Somatic cell count typically goes down 20 percent with the changes in cow housing as well.
Cull rates typically go down a little, with less cows getting hurt in a freestall/ parlor setup versus a stall barn. Electrical costs are expected to decrease about $8 per cow due to the parlor versus stall barn milking.
"With all these variable input, the net financial impact of the low cost parlor relative to the currently system is $16,620," Tranel said. "If a value to quality of life is added at $23,818 and a value for other profits opportunity is added at $5,000 annual, the total value of modernizing to a milking parlor is $44,438.
"In essence, even with building cow housing and manure storage, low cost parlors can create great financial impact and rid farms of a huge labor bottleneck."
When cash flow implications are calculated, amounts can vary greatly depending on the labor that was paid or unpaid. Overall, Tranel calculated an average cash flow change of a positive $3,121.
Bentley reported on the recently conducted ISU Extension and Outreach survey of producers in Northeast Iowa who had installed low cost parlors on their farms.
Eighteen producers answered questions in an ISU Extension survey about low costs parlors. The average parlor was 8.2 years old and had swing units in a parabone style.
Herds averaged 73 cows before the LCP and 112 cows after, an increase of 54 percent, while milking labor decreased 27 percent. Manure handling time and feeding time decreased, while heat detection time increased. Overall, LCP and freestall set ups saved an average of almost two and a half hours a day, which is valued at more than $8,000 a year.
The average cows milked per person per hour increased from 24.5 to 47 with the implementation of a LCP. Some producers are able to achieve the goal of 70 cows per hour, including set up and clean up.
Milking labor costs per cow and per hundredweight were reduced by almost half with the installation of a LCP (from $1.83 to $.95 per hundredweight and $.98 to $.50 per cow).
Bentley reported the average cost for a low cost parlor was $56,919 (including parlor framework, added milking equipment, and a building shell if needed). The least expensive parlor was built for $8,500 after a barn fire.
She noted that a tiestall barn can often easily be converted to a low cost parlor.
Assuming a 15-year usable life for a low cost parlor, the payback is usually around six years.
Bentley said, in summary, "low cost parlors gave a positive quality of life, financial return and milking labor advantage over stall barns."
Tranel said small adaptations can really help the ergonomics of low cost parlors. For example, using a splash guard instead of a manure pan reduced the length of reach for the person milking and therefore reduces back strain. If the milking pit pitches away from the midline area  the farmer's toes point slightly downward, which can also reduce stress on the spine. Tranel and Bentley have many resources available for those looking to design low cost parlors on their farms.
This workshop and others like it are in part funded through a grant from the USDA Risk Management Center. After this meeting, the next step will be for Bentley, Tranel and their co-workers to meet with focus groups and individual farmers who would like assistance in learning more if automated milking systems or low cost parlors could work well on their farms. Contact your ISU Extension dairy specialist for more information. Visit: for more information on milking systems.[[In-content Ad]]


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