Rotary dairy sheds have been developed to milk large herds more efficiently. Cows enter the dairy shed and step onto a circular rotating platform made up of typically 50, but up to 80 bales (milking stations). Cows are milked in each of these bales as the platform rotates and when the platform has done a full rotation they step backwards off the platform and walk to their paddock. The rotary shed is generally considered more efficient than a herring bone because it has a continuous flow of cows into the milking shed, whereas the herring bone is a ‘batch’ system, where a row of cows are milked at one time, then let go to the paddock before the next row comes into the shed. The rotary shed also enable one person to stand in one position to milk a large of number of cows, whereas the herring bone is limited in the number of cows per person that can be milked.
However, some cows like to stay on the platform after they have been milked (they either like the sensation of the merry-go-round, or with the advent of in-shed feeding (cows being fed grain or meal while they are on the platform) they think they will be fed again) This reduces the efficiency of the rotary shed and increase the total time it takes to milk the entire herd, as the cow that stays on the platform effectively takes up the space on the rotary that a new not-yet-milked cow could have taken.
Farmers have tried different methods including, squirting water on the cows to get them off the platform, pulses of air, drums that make a noise. Use of electric current in the shed is generally frowned upon, because of the risk that is shorts out and makes the rest of the shed ‘live’ causing all cows and farmers to receive a shock, and farmers aim to have quiet relaxed cows entering the dairy shed; they are easier to milk and they milk better. The problem can extend each milking by 45minutes or more. Typically this problem is dealt with by having another person in the shed to help get cows off the platform.
How can we make milking in our rotary sheds more efficient?
The situation is a challenge because of:
Cow behavior: they are smart animals and if they think they can get more to eat they can be very determined about staying on the platform
Farmers aim for quick, efficient milking of their cows. This maximizes the time for cows to be in the paddock eating grass, as well as time for farm work to be done and breaks – breakfast, lunch, dinner to be had at regular times.
Adding extra staff to a dairy shed defeats the purpose of having a more efficient, but more capital expensive dairy sheds.
An innovative solution would include:
Something that can be operated by one person at the entry to the rotary platform
Has animal welfare and operator safety built into the system
Enable cows that are still milking to go around a second time, but those that have finished milking to be exited at the exit point
The desired result is greater efficiency in our rotary dairy sheds and less frustration for farmers trying to get cows of the rotary platform. This will result in quicker milking times, better feeding of our cows and more time available for other tasks.