There is an undeniable intimacy to growing up on a small dairy farm when you are a child. The entire farm was our playground, the animals our friends, and our imaginations would run wild. Through a child’s eye, a small farm can seem like the perfect occupation, but seeing through the eyes of an adult that ideal is shattered to the reality of what it takes to run and maintain a small dairy farm.
My father worked hard for his farm, he kept his family fed, clothed and we didn’t need for anything, but things were always tight. My family lived within budgets, hand-me-downs, and if it could be re-used in any way shape or form it was.
I remember my father milking, day and night. I remember the work it took to hall each milker to the next cow down the row, to bed down low to clean the teets and put on the suction cups, and the time it took to get all of our cows milked. Meeting other farmers, especially the elderly, would only solidify the harshness and toll it would take on the body as their hunched over backs would show decades of the hard, physical labor of the lifestyle they has chosen to take.
A more modern dairy concept and one utilized by Israeli dairy farms, the parlor, has vastly improved the strenuous activity of milking. Moving from stanchion barns to a free style system, what used to take over two hours to milk 40 cows, can now be done in less than half that time. Not only that, but no longer are farmers having to move milkers around the barn to bring to the cows, instead the cows come to the milkers. Parlors, no matter the exact kind, work in generally the same way.
The area where the person doing the milking is usually recessed, this depression in the ground allows the cows teets to be within easy reach and at arm’s length. This eliminates the need for bending or crouching down in order to place the suction cups on the animal. Most parlors have a way to let cows in one way, and out the other, so that once they are done being milked, you can “release” them back into their holding pen. Freestyle barns work really well with this milking system. This system also allows, if need be, the ability to milk almost continuously.
Most of the milking systems within a parlor are automatic as well. After cleaning the teet and placing the milking device on the animal, many have sensors that will, once milk flow has slowed, automatically remove from the animal. This eliminates a step entirely for the worker having only to get the process started while the parlor and the systems within take care of the rest.
Dairy farms in Israel utilize the parlor and free style barn system in much of the Israel dairy industry. It’s a proven system that has been shown to be more comfortable for the farmer, improves efficiencies in the milking process, and by its makeup and structure, is a more sanitary way to harvest the milk. In the old stanchion barns, bacteria is an issue as milking takes place where the animal sleeps and defecates, increasing the chances for bacteria to enter into the milking system. The parlor allows a separate location for milking, which if needed can be cleaned more regularly, in order to reduce the chance of bacteria getting into the milk production.
While the ideal of the small dairy farm is still alive and well, there are benefits to being part of a larger system which allows the use of the parlor system and free style barns. Not only is it physically easier on the farmer, but there is a support system there with fellow farmers that is not present with the small personal dairy farm. Overall the parlor system is an advancement in milking that will forever be a benefit to the farmer, not only in the ability to increase milk production and reduce bacteria, but also saving the body of the strenuous activity that milking without a parlor creates.
Farming is a hard and physical job, but one that most who choose the profession love doing. Using the parlor can help the farmer continue to do what he loves longer and with less possible pain in the body. That in itself is a benefit worth investing in.
By: Sue Glenzinski