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Survey shows farmers pleased with low cost parlors and robots

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 12/12/2012 9:04 PM

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DUBUQUE, Iowa —Dairy farmers who have installed low cost milking parlors or automatic milking systems are satisfied with their decisions, according to two surveys conducted by Iowa State University Extension.

Survey results were presented at the recent Tri-State Agricultural Lender's Seminar in Dubuque.

The surveys were compiled by Extension Dairy Team members Jennifer Bentley, dairy field specialist; Kristen Schulte, ag and farm business management field specialist; Leon Timms, state dairy specialist; and Larry Tranel, dairy field specialist.

The survey showed positive results for producers who switched to AMS systems, said Tranel, who presented the results in Dubuque. An average of 12 percent more cows were able to be milked with an average of 75 percent less labor. Production increased 12 percent while somatic cell count dropped 36 percent. Feeding and housing efficiencies were gained.

Eight producers responded to the automatic milking system survey. The average installation was 8.25 months old. Herds averaged 149 cows before the automatic milking system and increased to 167 cows after installing the AMS. The average cost per AMS was $185,000 without building costs. The producers estimated a 13.75 year useful life from the AMS with $52,139 in salvage value.

Eighteen producers who installed low cost parlors responded to the survey, Tranel said. The average parlor was 8.2 years old, has swing units in a parabone style with five to 16 cows per side.

The herds averaged 73 cows before the low cost parlor and increased 54.3 percent to 112 cows after installing the LCP, Tranel said. The average cost for the building shell, parlor framework and added milking equipment was $56,919. Many built inside an existing barn. The lowest cost parlor was built for $8,500.

Producers estimated a 21-year useful life from the low cost parlor with $3,343 in salvage value.

Producer surveys showed very positive results in switching from flat barn parlors or stall barns to low cost parlors, Tranel said. An average of 54 percent more cows were able to be milked with an average of 2.44 less daily hours of labor.

"Producers on average doubled their labor efficiency in numbers of cows milked per hour with some reaching the goal of 70 cows milked per labor hour including set-up and clean-up," Tranel said of the low cost parlor survey responses.

Production increased 15 percent while somatic cell count dropped 22.3 percent, Tranel said. Feeding and housing efficiencies were gained as well. Investment in a low cost parlor allowed producers to drop the cost of milking cows in half to less than $1 per hundredweight with labor included.

"Low cost parlors gave a very positive quality of life, financial return and milking labor advantage over stall barns or flat barn parlors," Tranel said.

For both low cost parlors and robotic milking systems, all producers agreed or strongly agreed that the decision was a good one.

All producers in both surveys said it was a good personal, financial and management investment, Tranel said. It improved cash flow and profitability.

Producers who installed low costs parlors said it improved quality of life by an average of $23,818 annually. Automatic milking systems producers said the new system improved quality of life by an average value of $22,500.

To see complete results of both surveys, including an investment analysis, go to