Farm Ireland

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Rotary or herringbone milking parlour? One of the country's largest dairy farmers on which he'd install

'We laughed when someone suggested a rotary parlour - it was definitely outside our budget'

Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Patrick Hickey farms with his wife Elaine and brother John with two dairy farms in the midlands and three other brothers involved in dairying.

He is one of the speakers at the Teagasc International Agricultural Workforce Conference where labour efficiency and people management will be addressed.

Labour productivity is a critical issue that is currently (and will, into the future) impact on the sustainability of dairy farm structure and the industry as a whole. 

It is also an important factor influencing the economic performance of farming enterprises. In seasonal based production systems almost 50pc of the annual workload on farms occurs during the period of calving and breeding.

Pat will detail the operation of a 30-point herringbone parlour on a 100ha farm in Westmeath for almost 10 years and a 40-point rotary parlour on a 169ha farm at Fortview, Roscommon for four and a half years.

The partnership purchased Ardnacranny Farm in Westmeath in 2005 and he moved from Kilkenny with 220 heifers in January 2006 and commenced milking in a 10-unit double-up parlour. They spent about €5,000 getting it into working order until we could get a new parlour built.

However, as the existing yard was at one end of the farm, they decided to move to a centrally located Greenfield site for the new parlour on the 100ha milking platform.

"We were planning on carrying 300 cows, so we put in planning for a 30-unit herringbone parlour. As we had high borrowings due to purchasing the farm, we put in a very basic 30-unit De Laval swing over with duo-vac to allow it to be operated by one person when required, which happens to be most of the time.

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"We fitted an Alfco semi-automatic drafting facility and a 20,000l DX tank and a flood washing system on our rectangle shaped collecting yard.

"We also decided to take “advantage” of the Farm Waste Management (FWM) grant scheme, which turned out to be a mistake, as it added a lot of time and expense to the build with the result that it was September 2008 when we commenced milking in our new parlour.

Roscommon Farm

In 2012, the family bought Fortview 90ha in Roscommon and leased the remaining 40 ha for ten years, with a lot of young stock from Kilkenny.

They laid out the farm to carry 350 to 400 cows and their initial thought was a 36-unit herringbone with automatic cluster removers (ACRs), and when someone suggested a rotary they laughed saying “no, definitely outside our budget”.

"But he got us thinking and when we considered the benefits we realised that he was right. So we looked at rotary parlours and decided to go with a 40-point with removers being the only frill.

"So have we realised the benefits? I asked our farm manager of the Fortview farm, Brendan Elliot, about the comparisons of the two parlours and he looked back and just said “there is no comparison."

Comparing Milking Parlours

Fortview has an automatic washer, ACRs, a backing gate on a circular yard, but no drafting.

They fitted retention this springtime which they found (to their cost) a necessity. "We pre-spray the cows with a low cost spray unit. Ardnacranny had an automatic washer, but I sent it to Fortview as I didn’t like it."

Throughput for the rotary parlour in Fortview would vary from 240/h at peak to 300/h in the autumn, while Ardnacranny is fairly steady at 130-150cows/h with one person, this would increase to 180/h with the addition of a second person.

"But after doing a milking in each, there is no doubt even though there are more cows going through the rotary, that it is much easier on the operator. We have fitted the retention in Fortview and without doubt, an automatic backing gate is a must in Ardnacranny.

"To be honest, in hind sight, if I had a choice between drafting and a backing gate, I would have fitted the backing gate first. There would be about €2,000/unit difference in the purchase price between the rotary and the herringbone. However, if the comparison was done on a per cow basis, it would be closer.

"The ancillary construction cost would be similar for both. However, there is 3-phase power on the Fortview farm."

According to Pat, the running costs are fairly similar on both, but throughput is far higher with the rotary with a difference of 1.5h milking time/cow/yr less in the rotary parlour. That has to be put in context with the €100k higher capital cost of the rotary parlour, he says.

"As we have full-paid labour on the Roscommon Farm, the cost savings are more visible and it has allowed us to take on other opportunities that have arisen since we moved to Roscommon.

Having milked in both locations, it is possible to say that the rotary parlour is much easier physically for the operator and less stressful for the cow. I can safely say installing a rotary parlour has been one of our better decisions, he says.

The International Agricultural Workforce Conference takes place on July 10 in Cork and tickets can be booked here.

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