Cows ride on the new 32-stall internal rotary parlor the Millers started using March 2018.
Cows ride on the new 32-stall internal rotary parlor the Millers started using March 2018. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
    LEWISTON, Minn. – Like kids on a carnival ride, cows at Clear Crest Farm go round and round on a slowly circling platform. It’s part of their three-time-a-day schedule to be milked.
    “Most cows have trained themselves,” Luke Miller said about how the cows get on and off.
    Having the cows take a ride to be milked has been the routine for the Millers’ 700-cow herd since March 2018, when they started using their new 32-stall internal rotary parlor on their dairy near Lewiston, Minn.
    “If we wanted to continue with farming, we needed to make an investment in our facility,” Miller said. “It’s been an improvement for employees and cows.”
    The Millers – Jack and Pat, along with their sons, Luke and Rob, and Rob’s family – wife, Kathi, and their children, Bradley and Ella – welcomed people to their farm July 30 to view their new facility.
    The family upgraded from their double-7 parlor, which ran nearly around the clock and needed three people to complete each milking shift.  
    “It was a struggle to get all the cows milked in one eight-hour shift,” Miller said.
    Now the Millers can milk about 140 cows per hour with two people. Although it takes the parlor 13 minutes to make one round, that time could be reduced if needed. The parlor is capable of milking up to 1,100 cows.
    The new facility has already been a benefit for the cows. Since installing the parlor, there has been a decrease in clinical mastitis. Miller said the herd’s somatic cell count stayed below 100,000 all winter and is currently at 120,000.
    “We’re really happy with that,” he said.
    Not just the cows, but people have also seen the benefits of using the new parlor.
    “The employees love it,” Miller said.
    It has been an improvement compared to the old facility.
    “It wasn’t a good place to be when it was above 80 degrees or 30 below,” Miller said. “It was bad. It had definitely used up its life expectancy.”
    That is not the work environment the Millers wanted for their employees.
    “We want them to be treated with respect,” Miller said. “We want to treat them how we would want to be treated.”
    The temperature in the new parlor area stays fairly regulated. Two large overhead doors can be open in the summer to let in a breeze or closed in the winter to keep the warmth in from the in-floor heat.
    “Our employees were milking in t-shirts when it was negative 50 degrees outside,” Miller said. “I don’t know how we would have made it through the last winter in our old parlor.”
    Originally, the Millers had been looking at robots to milk their cows; however, it wasn’t a good fit for the layout of their freestall barns.
    So they started looking at parlors. They liked the internal rotary option despite its price tag being $100,000 more over conventional parlors.
    “We knew labor would be an issue,” Miller said. “We chose this rotary so we had the opportunity to incorporate more technology.”
    The parlor is built with the option to install robotic arms for prepping udders, attaching milking units and for post dipping along with the ability to add milk meters.
    “We overdesigned this knowing we could expand it,” Miller said.
    The internal aspect of a rotary piqued the Millers’ interest on one of their information-gathering tours before building.
    “The cows were so calm,” Miller said. “You could walk in front of those cows, and they were calm and content.”
    That is now the case with their cows, too.
    The cows have not struggled with the 45-degree turn it takes to get on the carousel.
    “We’ve been impressed with cow flow. You need to have good cow flow to make this work because it’s hard for the workers to get out [of the parlor] quickly,” Miller said, referring to having to go up and down sets of stairs and through a tunnel to get to the middle of the parlor.
    This also helps keep the parlor quiet.
    “We like people not having to go out and get the cows, and hearing them hooting, hollering and whistling to get them in,” Miller said.
    After 1.5 years of use, the Millers are pleased with their decision to let their cows go for a ride to be milked three times a day.
    “It has exceeded our expectations,” Miller said.