1 Nail down costs

With the price of steel and concrete at record highs, doing any type of building work now is extremely expensive. But with no indication that prices are going to go back to normal any time soon, many farmers will be forced to bite the bullet to get jobs completed. It’s important to have written contracts with builders and suppliers with quantity, cost and delivery times clearly stated.

2 Focus on cow flow

The cows will be walking into and out of the parlour twice a day, every day for as long as cows will be milked on the farm. Too often, farmers back away from doing the right thing from a cow flow perspective due to cost or time constraints and they live to regret it afterwards.

Design handling and milking facilities from the cow's point of view.

Proper planning with as much outside assistance as possible will help to ensure a well-designed setup will be built with as few obstacles as possible for the cows to get between paddock and parlour and shed and parlour.

3 Plan for the future

While the era of unrestricted growth in cow numbers may well be behind us, that does not mean that farms won’t be growing in size.

Indeed, the opposite is also true and some farms may milk fewer cows in future. Highly stocked farms are going to be under the most pressure to reduce numbers or get extra land.

Leave space for future expansion, but be realistic with expectations in light of environmental constraints.

What would happen to cow numbers if the nitrates derogation was reduced even further, or worse still, to be removed? Be realistic when planning a new build and make sure the farm can afford it even with fewer cows. Build facilities in such a way that they can be easily expanded in the future.

4 Deal with soiled water

Most farmers need three weeks of soiled water storage by 1 December 2023 and four weeks by 1 December 2024. All dairy farmers must have four weeks of soiled water storage in place by 1 December 2025, including winter milk producers.

Soiled water tanks should be separate from slurry tanks.

The Department of Agriculture wants to clamp down on soiled water mixing with slurry, as it reduces storage capacity. When designing new or upgrading existing milking facilities, divert soiled water from the dairy and from washing yards to a separate soiled water tank.

Reducing the amount of soiled water that needs to be gathered should be a key priority when designing facilities.

5 Think renewable

While energy use on dairy farms is not a big contributor to total greenhouse gas emissions from farms, it is a big cost and a cost that has increased dramatically over the past 12 months.

This means that the payback on energy efficient items has reduced. These items include variable speed vacuum and milk pumps and plate coolers. In the future, it is likely that electricity generated from renewable sources will be the greenest energy available, so keep this in mind when choosing what method to heat water.

Solar PV and electric water heating are probably the greenest energy option for dairy farmers.

While gas is efficient and effective, it’s still a fossil fuel like oil. Generating electricity on-farm using solar PV and using that electricity to heat water in electric water heating tanks will probably be the cheapest option in the future, as the hot water tanks act like battery storage.

Pre-heating the water using a heat exchange unit connected to the bulk milk tank will make it even more efficient.

Limiting water use and recycling as much water used as possible will also be important.

6 Don’t fall for sales-talk

There is a small margin for milking machine companies when they sell a very basic milking parlour. There is a big margin in all of the extras that can be added on and so they will always try to sell these.

For example, automatic cluster removers cost about €1,000 per unit plus VAT, but if you disassembled all the parts in an automatic cluster remover, I would say the full cost would be a fraction of €1,000.

These companies also make money from having to fix higher-tech equipment when it inevitably breaks down.

Now, I accept there’s intellectual property involved and so on, but it’s still a relevant point. The sales talk will say this and that is essential, but I would question that. If the parlour is well designed with good cow flow, a lot of the extras aren’t necessary.

7 Don’t forget…

On many farms, even where new parlours have been built, the milk lorry still has to go through an obstacle course to get close enough to the bulk tank to collect the milk. It is a rule in New Zealand that milk lorries should be able to collect milk without having to reverse to get to the bulk tank. I’m not saying the same should be brought in here, but wouldn’t it make collecting milk much more efficient?

Designing the milking parlour with the milk lorry in mind will save a lot of hassle when it comes to milk collection.
Lack of efficiency in milk collection and transport is costing dairy farmers, as in the main, farmers own the milk processors. Putting thought into how the milk lorry will access the dairy during planning is very important. Other things such as building a toilet, canteen or office facilities should also be considered when building a new parlour or dairy, particularly if there are employees on-farm.