The quality of the milk farmers produce directly affects the price that the farmer receives for their milk, the processors ability to process that milk, the consumers’ confidence that the milk has been produced in a secure and safe manner, and ultimately the price they are prepared to pay. Therefore the operation of the dairy shed where the cows are milked is critically important.
Farmers have strict processes for milking their cows and cleaning their milking plant, which are verified by their milk processes and companies like QCONZ or Asure quality. However, mistakes occur, usually the result of human error. They can also be the result of ineffective cleaning of the milking plant.
Dairy sheds are not well designed for reducing human error. There are a series of taps and valves connecting the milking plant to the cooler, milk vat and drain pipes. If one tap is left open all the milk from a milking may go down the drain, or if a switch is left off it may not be refrigerated. If the vat is not closed when milk from cows treated with antibiotics are milked then the entire vat of milk must be dumped, or if it is not, the farmer incurs a substantial financial penalty (‘a grade’).
If the milking plant is not effectively cleaned it can also result in a grade as bacteria builds up on the milk residue left in the milking plant between milkings. When a grade does occur for this reason, it can take a lot of time from the farmer to find the source of the problem; there is a lot of stainless steel to check in a modern dairy shed.
These are costly mistakes and despite farmers putting in processes to prevent them they still occur. They are costly for the farmer and also for the processor. The processor faces extra costs of dealing with milk quality problems, as well as processing scheduling as a result of not picking up expected volumes due to the farmer dumping their milk.
How can we better monitor the milk and water and water flows in our dairy sheds?
The situation is a challenge because:
we have limited visibility in the dairy shed of where the milk is going once it has left the cow.
There are multiple taps to open and close, which are susceptible to human error.
We have cows that may be treated with antibiotics (eg for mastitis infections) that must be milked through the same plant but into a different vat, or down the drain into our effluent systems. In the spring time we also have newly calved cows that produce colostrum milk which cannot be milked into the main vat, and must go into a separate vat.
We wash our milking plant after every milking with water and high strength-cleaners, which can be put into the vat with the milk if it is not closed.
We have staff with different levels of experience and skill (even the most experienced make mistakes!) and we expect our staff to carry out multiple tasks during the day and be interchangeable in their roles in the shed.
An innovative solution would include:
Alerts for milk going where it shouldn’t – down the drain; or into the vat when it should be going down the drain
Alerts for water going where it shouldn’t, or not going where it should and at the right temperature – requirement to circulate plant wash at 60 degrees Celsius for 7 minutes.
- A dash board of the milking plant showing performance, or potential problems and areas that need maintenance (eg when rubberware needs replacing, seals etc) – we are thinking Microsoft Rolls Royce dashboard!
The desired result is a big reduction in milk being dumped, or accidently tipped down the drain and a reduction in grades. This would increase the income for farmers and reduce the costs for processors. Farmers would produce better quality milk and have greater assurance that mistakes would not be made. There would be less wastage of milk and time dealing with the problems. Stress levels would be reduced – trying to track down the cause of the problem when a grade is received, before the next grade occurs is highly stressful! Consumers would have greater confidence that the milk is produced in a secure and safe from the cow to their glass.