To attract and retain quality employees, dairy farms must be competitive with other workplaces offering more conventional hours of work. Milking requires significant labor input and influences the start and end times of the working day, affecting flexibility to suit employee needs or availability. The use of labor-saving technology and milking management strategies could help with this challenge. Previous studies have used scenario modeling in attempt to quantify the value of in-parlor technologies, however, they have relied on assumptions about the effect of the technologies on labor in the dairy. Similarly, the effect of management strategies on work patterns, such as flexible milking intervals (changing the timing of milking), has not been evaluated. The aims of this study were to (1) quantify the milking labor requirements in a range of pasture-based dairy farm systems and (2) identify practices or technologies that facilitate efficient milking. A telephone survey of 500 dairy farmers in New Zealand was conducted during April and May 2018, with questions asked about milking practices and technology use. Predictive analysis showed that at peak lactation, milking required between 17 and 24 h/wk per worker for farms milking twice a day, representing 43 to 58% of a conventional 40-h work week, depending on parlor type (herringbone or rotary), the number of clusters, and herd size. Using milking intervals of 8 and 16 h (intervals between milkings), compared with the more usual 10 and 14 h, largely avoided starting milking before 0500 h. Eight percent of herds were milked once a day, which required between 7 and 14 h/wk per worker (18-35% of a 40-h week). ANOVA showed that for metrics that related to people (labor efficiency and work routine), using automatic teat spraying had a positive effect on efficiency. Having both automatic cluster removers and drafting were associated with longer milking times in terms of throughput and row/rotation time compared with using drafting only. The results highlight considerable opportunity to reduce the number of hours those milking (employers and employees) spend in the parlor and increase staff time flexibility through milking (e.g., intervals between milkings) and parlor management (e.g., row/rotation time) and use of specific technologies. This study provides useful data for those wishing to analyze the likely value of an in-parlor automation technology or management practice for an individual situation.
Keywords: labor milking intervals parlor technology