52 | nzdairy Lifting ‘cows per hour’ throughput a priority Kim Newth “It only takes one hour to milk all our cows. We’re regularly achieving that. From what I was told when we were looking at new sheds here, you can only milk 420 cows an hour through a 60-bail rotary shed. That would have actually cost us more than the one we built for ourselves – and our one milks 200 more cows an hour.” DAIRY PEOPLE » Shane Ardern In his 16 years as National’s Taranaki King Country MP, Shane Ardern gained a reputation as a strong advocate for agriculture and the dairy sector. He and wife Cathy still have a lot of respect for the sector but since returning to dairy farming in South Taranaki in 2014 have discovered considerable room for improvement when it comes to dairy shed efficiency and effluent management. Shane and son Cameron quickly became disillusioned with the options available from New Zealand dairy supply companies when they went looking for a new milking shed for their Te Kiri farm. It seemed to them that dairy shed design had stagnated and it sparked a three-year hunt for something better. Shane and Cameron, who is an equity partner and contract sharemilker on the family farm, wound up travelling to the United States to see how farms milked large herds there. They were impressed by what they found. “The smallest farm we visited had 4000 cows and the largest had 33,000,” says Shane. “One farm in Kansas we visited with 12,000 cows was milking between 1200 and 1400 cows an hour. It’s on a scale that’s almost beyond comprehension compared to New Zealand but begged the question – how could they be getting that many cows through a shed so fast?” By early 2020, Shane and Cameron were making headlines here for having built New Zealand’s fastest cowshed, with a twin 40-bail rotary layout that includes many of the efficiency features he saw first-hand in the US. A key improvement was to eliminate pipe railing at entry and exit, using a concrete panel system instead so cows are not distracted as they go through and keep facing the right way. The 612 Kiwicross cows are milked in two herds, smoothly flowing through with no holdups. “It only takes one hour to milk all our cows,” says Shane. “We’re regularly achieving that. From what I was told when we were looking at new sheds here, you can only milk 420 cows an hour through a 60bail rotary shed. That would have actually cost us more than the one we built for ourselves – and our one milks 200 more cows an hour.” There are many advantages to lifting ‘cows per hour’ throughput. As Shane observes, less time in the shed means more time out eating grass with obvious flow-on benefits for production and animal health. Less time spend standing around in the yard or races also means less effluent that will need to be spread later. “Most significant of all is the benefit for human Robin Martel, Shane Ardern (back), Nia Cowcher, Cathy Adern, Cameron Adern in the self-designed milking shed and exterior of shed (below). and animal comfort. Cows like to be standing in a paddock grazing. They don’t want to be in a hot cow yard at 2pm in the afternoon at the height of a Canterbury or Taranaki summer. People also want to work in a clean, calm efficient environment.” He suggests any dairy farmer looking at making a significant investment in a new cow shed should be asking shed manufacturers – ‘how many cows per hour and how comfortable will stock and staff be using the shed?’ – rather than accepting the status quo.