In an unusual move for a newly-established dairy, in 2000, Wolfe’s Power Line Dairy, in Milton, PA, immediately invested heavily in a type of milking parlor not too often seen in PA, which has saved the operation tremendous amounts of time, energy, and expense over the past 16 years it has been in use: A 32-stall DeLaval Rotary Milking Parlor.
Four workers can milk Power Line Dairy’s approximately 380 fresh cows in comfort, in three milkings a day, at a speed of `150 cows per hour. The rotary platform is raised so that workers can easily access the udders at a comfortable standing height.
As the angled stalls on the platform revolve slowly, each cow steps calmly, one at a time, into the next empty stall as it appear before her. “The rotary parlor will cycle a cow off [after it has been milked] and reload another cow about every 30 seconds,” commented Harold Miller of JBZ Dairy Advantage in Orangeville, PA. “It is the most efficient way to milk from a labor and cost efficiency standpoint. With milk prices so low, that makes a big difference.”
The worker who is pre- cleaning teats uses a Sanicleanse Brush System, an extremely efficient device that came on the market only 3 or 4 years ago, according to Miller. The Sanicleanse holds three rapidly rotating brushes that clean off any dirt on each teat, sanitize it, and when the worker’s thumb is lifted from the button, the device even wicks off excess water, drying the teat. No towels are needed with this system, eliminating the cost of purchasing towels and the electricity, water, and labor to wash and dry them.
Ray Wolfe uses a lactic acid-based predip, and that plus the efficiency Saniclean brush are two of many factors that keep his cows’ somatic cell count at less than 150,000. The low SCC also has a lot to do with keeping up with needed maintenance of equipment, according to Wolfe.
“We replace our Conewango inflations every 45 days. We also make sure our vacuum pressures are correct, and check regularly for leaking hoses. Land O’ Lakes gives an award every year to its top producers, and we’ve been among those receiving that award every year we’ve been in business, for the past 16 years.”
After teat cleaning and drying, clusters are applied quickly because of the easy udder access afforded by the platform. As the parlour slowly rotates, and the calm cows are milked, the take- off of the clusters is controlled by the reduced flow of the milk to below one pound per minute. When that point is reached, the cluster drops off without worker intervention.
Another worker applies an iodine-based barrier post-dip which contains aloe vera for skin conditioning. Then the comfortable cows walk calmly off the rotating platform and back to the clean Petersheim rubber-filled mattresses in the free-stall, open-sided barn.
Because Ray Wolfe uses a Jamesway automatic alley scraper, there is no wait for the cows to return to lying down and eating after milking. Ray Wolfe goes to considerable lengths to care for his cows. “He tells his help, ‘I want you to treat my cows like you’d treat your own Mother,’ ” recalls Miller, “and he means it.”
The cows are cooled in summer by misters and nine 24-foot ceiling fans. The fans, from, Big Fan Co., create significant cooling air movement. Ray Wolfe commented when we visited that, although milking three times a day, at 8 p.m., 4 a.m. and noon, does yield eight to 10 pounds more milk per cow per day, his 3X/day milkings are not about producing more milk. “The more frequent milkings produce less stress on the cows,” he explained. “The udders are not so full, so the cows are kept more comfortable.”
Ray Wolfe’s emphasis on cow comfort also extends to having hooves trimmed on about 70 cows each month, according to Miller. “An animal with healthy hooves is going to get up and eat and drink more readily,” he said.
“As of three years ago,” Miller continued, “Wolfe started softening all his dairy’s water, even the water his cows drink. He decided that since soft water is more palatable, his cows would drink more of it.” And of course, when equipment is washed, the dairy’s soft water reduces the amount of detergent needed to clean his system and slows the corrosion of equipment.
Said Ray Wolfe: “Our cows are fed a mixed ration, balanced by our nutritionist, consisting mostly of corn silage and alfalfa haylage that we raise on our 300-acre farm. We buy some grains to add to the ration, including ground corn and soybean meal.”
“The cows are on pasture only during their dry period,” explained Wolfe. “We keep the milking cows in the barn so we can control their ration. It’s like you don’t ever let your kids loose in a candy store. You want to be sure they have a properly balanced diet.”
Wolfe breeds his heifers for the first time at around 14 months, so they calve around two years of age. “We keep our cows till they’re worn out, and every cow is different,” he said. “Some will keep producing large amounts of milk, like the ‘Energizer Bunny,’ until they are as much as 12 years old.” The operation has animals with excellent Holstein genetics, and breeds its own replacement heifers.
Meanwhile, back at the rotary milking parlor, a lot more has been going on than just milking. “A milk meter hidden under each stall records how many pounds each cow produces. Each cow is ID’d by the tag around her neck when she enters the parlor, and again when she enters an ID loop at the stall arch, when an antenna tells the parlor computer which stall the animal is in,” explained Miller.
When milking is completed, all the information from the milking point controller is transferred to the herd management software. This controller will also tell employees information such as, “This cow’s milk should not go in the tank, or “This cow should be herd-checked.” In the latter case, the system diverts the cow into the catch pen.
The decks are automatically washed down, the milkers are rinsed, and at the end of each milking, according to Miller, a door folds down and an h-manifold reveals CIP (Clean in Place) rods. Each milker sits atop these rods, and goes through three major wash cycles between milkings.
All water drains from the system into a holding tank, and can be re-used to wash down cow areas—truly an efficient and time-saving system, contributing to the success of a remarkably well-run dairy, established under the ownership of two generations of the Wolfe family: Parents Ernest and Jennie, and sons Ray and Dean.