Bill Rowekamp is convinced that quality lighting has led to lower somatic cell counts in his new parlor.
Cow comfort was the driving force in designing this parlor
Sorting through all the different design and feature options available for a new milking parlor can be a daunting challenge, even for the most experienced producer.
When they started mulling over prospects for building a new parlor at their 300-cow dairy near Lewiston, Minn., a few years ago, Bill and Jean Rowekamp streamlined the decision-making process by concentrating on making cow comfort the focal point.
To gather design ideas, the couple toured "many, many farms" for a first-hand look at parlors, poured over all kinds of product literature and talked with countless company representatives. At each step along the way, they asked a simple question: What would be best for the cow?
When they finally moved into their new double-12, parallel, rapid-exit parlor in August 2012, the Rowekamps were confident that they had built a facility that met their cow-centric criteria.
"It’s very bright and very airy in there," Rowekamp says of the 40'x42' structure housing the parlor. "You get such a different feeling than you did in our old parlor [a double-6 herringbone built in 1972]. It had low ceilings. It was dark, cramped and hot."
By comparison, the new facility features four 36" ceiling fans plus three 30" fans on one wall. And in the 100-cow holding area opposite that wall, there are four 52" fans.
"So there’s a lot of air moving through all the time," Rowekamp says. "It’s very comfortable for the cows. They just love it. When we get into those really hot, humid days in the summer, it almost turns into a problem for us. The cows like it so much in the parlor, they don’t want to leave."
Windows on another wall, plus rows of fluorescent lighting directly above the milking platforms (one panel of six light tubes for every two stalls), keep the parlor well-lit.
"We got the idea from the electrician we were working with," Rowekamp says. "He had put a setup like this in at another parlor, and he kept telling me, ‘Bill, you have to get over there and see those lights!’ "
Rowekamp is convinced that the quality lighting has led to the lower somatic cell counts, which now average around 150,000 in their new parlor. "It all comes down to cleanliness," he says. "It’s easier for the operator to get those teats clean and prepped right when they have good light to work in."
The more comfortable environment also relieves stress. "When cows feel comfortable, they let their milk down easier," he says. "It’s good for the milkers, too. Because they’re working in nice surroundings, their attitude is better and they do a better job."
Improvement in cow throughput is another positive, resulting from the change. In the old parlor, milking 300 cows took about seven and a half hours. "The system would just get done washing, and we’d be bringing in the first cows for the next shift."
- April 2014