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Milking automation technology drives Afton Hills Farm development

The new milking system equipment and infrastructure.
The new milking system equipment and infrastructure. - Contributed
AFTON, N.S. —

Dustin and Eileen Swinkels are building a solid platform for the future of their dairy farm, as the installation of their new milking system nears completion.

The couple manages Afton Hills Farm in Antigonish County, where they milk 200 cows on the family’s 660 acres (267 hectares) property.

The 200-cow herd includes dry cows, replacement heifers and calves. The family crops 525 acres on the 660 acre site, growing alfalfa/grass forage mixtures and corn silage.

The farm also leases an additional 400 acres (161 hectares) for forage production.

Afton Hills has engaged Waikato Milking Systems to provide its new dairy parlor, which will be a 40-bail Centrus Composite Rotary. It will replace their old 16-point herringbone parlor, which has been in service since November 1990.

The Centrus system is made from composite materials, which means it’s lighter but stronger than other parlors, which have concrete platforms.

What is also unique is that this will be the first “external rotary” milking parlor in Nova Scotia. It means the cows walk straight on to the platform and the operator stands on the outside of the rotary to manage the herd through the milking process.

Many other milking systems require the animals to back on to the platform to be milked and the operator stands on the inside of the rotary.

The new parlor was expected to be put through its testing phase by the end of September.

Dustin and Eileen said they became aware of the Waikato Milking Systems brand when they started looking at the benefits of a rotary platform over their old herringbone system.

“We were skeptical at first but after traveling to New Zealand and then to United States to see the Waikato Milking Systems rotary platforms in action, it became a clear that it would be a good fit at our farm,” Dustin said.

The new platform will feature a host of milking automation and dairy management technology options, to make it easier for the family to manage the herd and ensure there’s room for expansion in the future.

The milking automation features include Waikato Milking Systems SmartSPRAY, an automatic teat sprayer designed specifically for rotary platforms.

Another is the SmartD-TECT system, which has individual teat pulsation control so cows let their milk down faster. It also has sensors to measure the conductivity of milk from each quarter of the cow.

The Swinkels said these two milking automation features in particular will allow the farm to milk more cows with fewer staff.

A ‘dairy management system’ from Waikato will gather information collected by milk sensor equipment on the platform, such as electronic milk meters, to help the Swinkels make better decisions to improve the overall productivity of their herd.

Dustin and Eileen can also use that data to program the NaviGate Sort Gate, to automatically sort their animals at the end of each milking session.

“The Sort Gate will greatly facilitate managing cows, saving us time,” Eileen said. “Overall the efficiency of the rotary will allow us to continue to expand the herd and grow our operation.”

The Swinkels said production in the farm’s current dairy barn averages 36kg per cow with 4.2 percent fat and 3.2 per cent protein.

“Milk is all sold to the Nova Scotia marketing board, it is then placed in various plants in the area run by Saputo or Agropur,” Eileen said.

“Local plants produce a variety of fluid products, ice cream, butter and skim milk powder. The herd is fed a TMR diet consisting of alfalfa/grass forage, corn silage, dry corn, soymeal and various other minerals,” she said.

The Swinkels said news of the new milking system had sparked interest from others working in the dairy industry around Nova Scotia.

“Many dairy farmers are keeping an eye on the Waikato Milking Systems installation, they are very excited to see the rotary in action,” Dustin said.

Waikato sales manager Grant Wisnewski said he met the Swinkels through the company’s dealer, ATL Dairy Automation in Canada.

“We then brought Dustin out to New Zealand where he was impressed with the way the Waikato rotary works. When he returned, he then visited another of our Centrus Composite Rotary platforms operating in Michigan, a 60-bail platform, to see how well it operated.”

Grant said Waikato started the Afton Hills project installation in 2018, in the North America fall season.

“Work stopped for the winter and restarted over the northern summer. The project is expected to be completed in October,” Grant said.

The new milking system equipment and infrastructure.
The new milking system equipment and infrastructure.

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