The milking center is at the heart of a dairy farm, and when the time comes to make updates, producers can be faced with a big decision. A growing number of farms are moving toward rotary parlors or robotic milking, but how do they decide which milking system is best for them?

During a Knowledge Nook session at World Dairy Expo, two dairy farmers shared why they chose the milking system they did. For Mitch Moorlag of Edaleen Dairy, he said the decision to go with robots was easy.

They had considered a rotary parlor as well, but a few reasons led them toward robotic milking. A major factor was labor. At their location near Lynden, Wash., they are competing for employees with other agricultural commodities, such as potatoes, raspberries, and blueberries. Roofing businesses pull that same labor pool away in the spring and summer.

In addition, Washington established overtime laws for dairy farms if employees work over 40 hours per week. Moorlag said their employees wanted to work more than the standard work week, which would require a lot of overtime pay. On top of that, Moorlag noted that some of their longtime employees were nearing retirement age, so they knew they would be losing part of their workforce in the coming years. “The labor side was huge for us,” he reiterated.

They also found their customer base liked the idea of robotic milking, where the cows were on their own schedule. “For customers, everything about the robots was a positive for them,” he said.

Since installing their 20 DeLaval VMS 300 robots and moving to complete robotic milking 15 months ago, they have seen a 4% rise in milk production and expect that to climb over time. They are also seeing less lameness and injuries in the herd now that cows are not traveling to and from the parlor. For these reasons and more, Moorlag said the robots have been “a great deal so far.”

Derrick Josi of Wilsonview Dairy in Tillamook, Ore., also considered robotic milking, but in the end, he chose to install a rotary parlor when they moved their dairy to a new location out of a floodplain in 2020. They are currently milking about 720 cows in their DeLaval 50-stall rotary parlor, with capacity to grow to about 1,000 cows or so.

“The rotary has been an amazing experience,” Josi shared enthusiastically. “The rotary is by far the best decision I have ever made in my life.”

Josi is pleased with his rotary parlor for several reasons. At 2x milking, they saw an improvement in milk production. Milking is also faster, and the last cow in each group to get onto the rotary is back in the freestall barn in less than an hour. “This system allows them to just be cows,” Josi noted. Cow comfort and cow flow were important to him.

Labor was also a consideration for Josi when choosing his milking system, but he didn’t want to reduce his labor force. Instead, he maintained his employees and actually gave them a pay raise since they were milking fewer hours per week and he didn’t want their quality of life to go down. The improved working environment and pay bump have resulted in better employee retention and higher quality employees, both positives in Josi’s mind.

He also considered the public perception aspect, as he hopes to do more agritourism on the farm in the future. For Josi, he felt watching cows be milked as they slowly rode the rotary parlor would give guests a positive image of modern, large-scale dairy farming.

These dairymen chose their milking system for similar reasons, but their final decision depended on what was best for them. After doing research and considering all their options, both came to a conclusion they are happy with.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023

October 12, 2023

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