ParlorBoss, a technology platform from VAS) that optimizes cow organization when entering the parlor, eliminates the need for a headlock system, and provides dairy employees with critical information about that animal as she is about to leave the rotary
By Mike Tinker, ParlorComp product lead, VAS
Dairy consolidation continues to create a landscape where a smaller percentage of herds accounts for an increasing amount of the country’s overall milk production. According to current Census data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, herds with more than 500 cows account for about 9 percent of the total number of herds, but represent 68 percent of total milk sales and production.
As production dairies shrink in number but grow in size, dairy managers are working harder than ever to create environments and workflows that bring together the best in animal care, employee satisfaction and, of course, milk production. This includes new and innovative ways to help cows do the things that make them more effective at producing milk – eat, drink, lay down, milk, and do that all over again in a seamless routine.
High Plains Ponderosa Dairy (Plains, Kansas) is focused on a streamlined, efficient and more productive dairy. Chris Yohn, the dairy’s cattle operations manager, is working doggedly to make sure that cows can be cows. Yohn and his team leverage integrated parlor technology —and the resulting process improvement makes sure the dairy’s animals and employees are as happy and stress free as possible.
High Plains uses a 110-animal rotary parlor equipped with ParlorBoss, a technology platform from Valley Agricultural Software (VAS) that optimizes cow organization when entering the parlor, eliminates the need for a headlock system, and provides dairy employees with critical information about that animal as she is about to leave the rotary. Those alerts include management factors such as medication or supplement administration, pregnancy testing, heat detection applications and, if in-heat, insemination.
These alerts appear on a fully-integrated digital panel that is easy for parlor staff to read and analyze, or on handheld devices that make the technology mobile and even more powerful.
“ParlorBoss is without a doubt the main setup of this barn’s layout,” said Yohn. “The cows never have to go into a headlock system once entering this barn. It’s 100 percent done right off the rotary, and our guys have less labor because they don’t have to walk as many barns.
“The amount of time and space and people that are needed — we would probably have to hire somewhere between three to four guys just to take the place of Parlor Boss.”
“The amount of time and space and people that are needed — we would probably have to hire somewhere between three to four guys just to take the place of Parlor Boss.” -Chris Yohn – High Plains Ponderosa Dairy
While some dairies still utilize headlock systems, large-scale dairies need to go the extra mile to eliminate undue stress on the animals. In cattle, stress increases cortisol secretion, which can lead to immune system deficiencies, mastitis and other production-reducing ailments.
“ParlorBoss allows us to take the best of both worlds. So we have the animals in their own environment, they are free to be a cow 12 hours a day,” he said. “The only time that they’re interrupted is when they go to the parlor and then again by taking them out of that parlor, the ParlorBoss now allows us to see each individual cow as they’re coming off and limits the amount of time that they have stress on them by being in headlocks.”
Once an animal completes its milking cycle, it is directly routed either back to its assigned pen, or for breeding, medical assessment, or any other factors the dairy wants to track. Enrique Hernandez, the production manager at High Plains, said the automated process is great at reducing stress on the cows, but it’s also good for parlor staff.
“The biggest benefit of what we’re doing right now is the cows tend do more of what they’re supposed to be doing, which is eating, trying to lay down, and not being as stressed out,” Hernandez said. “Right now we’re probably only handling about 1 percent of the cows that we need every day. Before ParlorBoss, if we were to lock up all the cows that we needed we’d probably be locking around 60 percent of the herd. So, it’s a big difference. I think it’s a lot better for the cows.”
For employees, it means significantly less walking from pen-to-pen to pull cows for maintenance and treatment, and much more efficiency.
“The way the parlor is set up with ParlorBoss, we do less walking and so most of the time we’re just waiting for the cow, we show the cow and then we work the cow whether she has to go to the hospital, or breed her and then put her back in the pen that she came out of,” Hernandez said. “So, just physically I think it’s a little bit less work for the employees as far as the walking they do right now. And so that makes it better for them.”
Optimizing Breeding and Treating
The cost of missed standing heats, failed artificial inseminations and cows racking-up non-milking open days can cost producers hundreds of dollars per animal every year. With ParlorBoss, dairymen and herd managers have a tighter grasp on breeding timelines and protocols so they can breed as soon as an animal is flagged as being in heat by ParlorBoss and routed for AI or natural service.
“When it comes to breeding cows, technicians previously had to walk the pens, look for heat detection – we used chalk – and identify the animals that are in heat, then go back to the truck, load up the AI guns, walk back and then they would have to breed the animals,” Yohn said. “Anyone that knows about breeding AI, it’s a time sensitive task. We have to get it done within a certain amount of time.
“With ParlorBoss being able to sort those animals off, knowing they’re in heat. Within five minutes having them in the rail and ready to breed with the semen readily available right there, that eliminates a lot of questioning or takes out some error on timing of when semen is actually introduced to the cow.”
Similar efficiencies are drawn when managing sick or lame cows, as well. Instead of needing to track them down, find them, secure them and shepherd them to a treatment area, Hernandez and his team are able to quickly treat animals while they’re in the parlor.
“By taking her right off of the parlor and knowing if the cow has an item or an issue or a task that needs to be done for that animal that day, we have all of that data right there at the fingertips of our employees,” Yohn explained. “They know what that animal is, how many days of milk that animal is, what her process or what her lactation is. How many days that she was in heat.
“When she comes off the rotary, we know all of that information and she goes right into the rail, and those guys already know exactly what they’re going to do to that animal. It speeds up the process by 20 to 30 minutes, maybe an hour and the cows are no longer having to be locked up.”
Streamlining the Dairy Through Tech
As dairies get larger, it’s increasingly important to ensure staffing and employee levels are appropriate. At High Plains in rural Kansas, recruiting, hiring and retaining reliable employees can be a challenge, and with ParlorBoss, they have been able to pinpoint the exact number of employees needed to have the dairy running at maximum efficiency.
“Employees are pivotal to what we do every day here. Their comfort, their happiness, wanting to come to work and be here,” Yohn said. “ParlorBoss allows for us to have a smaller working area, they’re closer to restrooms. They’re closer to break rooms. They’re closer to having a drink or a refrigerator close by because now they don’t have to walk in a large barn and they don’t have to walk as many animals. That alone, the amount of time that they would have to walk in these barns, is a life saver. It’s also an environment where these guys are in less chance of getting in danger.”
ParlorBoss’ integration with VAS’s DairyComp platform makes the entire system a must-have for any dairy, according to Yohn. Having these systems automate processes that are subject to human error and mistakes allow employees to focus primarily on making sure the dairy’s cows are happy, healthy, stress-free and performing at their best. All of these factors add up to a dairy that is operating efficiently, with happy, stress-free cows and engaged employees.
“When we talk about ParlorBoss as a benefit to our bottom line especially with the struggles that are in dairy farming today and all agriculture for that matter, ParlorBoss and other technologies help us at so many different levels,” he said. “I think ParlorBoss is a wonderful system and I would not manage a dairy without it moving forward. Without it we would be at a state that we would be going backwards five to six years, and we would not be where we are today as fast as we are without ParlorBoss.”
“I think ParlorBoss is a wonderful system and I would not manage a dairy without it moving forward. Without it we would be at a state that we would be going backwards five to six years, and we would not be where we are today as fast as we are without ParlorBoss.” – Chris Yohn – High Plains Ponderosa Dairy