The benefits and challenges of modernization

A survey conducted in Wisconsin in 2008 showed that many farmers and agricultural professionals have found real labour savings, better working conditions, increased cow comfort, and more profitable dairy farms after the dairy modernization.

In 2008, the Extension team at the University of Wisconsin conducted a survey on 99 mostly medium sized dairies that had modernized their barns within the last ten years. The survey was conducted to determine what the producers had observed as being the major benefits to modernizing, both from the personal and the cow standpoint. The survey was also used to determine what educational resources the producers used and valued the most in the modernization process; what they thought was the most challenging part of the process; and the one thing producers would change if they could do it over again.

The reasons for modernizing were old and too small stalls, lack of cow comfort and a wish to reduce labor requirements.

  • Herd size average increased +121 per cent, from 82 to 203.
  • Full time employee average increased 84,6 per cent, from 2,34 to 4,32, but cows/FTE average increased 43 per cent, from 35 to 50.
  • The average time spent feeding the milk cows dropped, from 1.48 minutes per cow per day in the stall barn to .55 minutes per cow per day after modernizing.
  • 93 per cent built a new parlour, and 62 per cent of the parlours were retro-fitted in the existing facility, while 38 per cent constructed a new building.
  • The most popular milking centres were parabone (40%), which also was the most common choice for the retro-fitted parlours. 31 per cent were parallel parlours, most popular in the new constructions. 11 per cent chose a herringbone, 8 per cent a flat barn and 2 per cent a rotary.

Benefits – for the cow and for the people

85 per cent of the producers indicated that overall cow health was the biggest benefit for the cows, with less leg and foot problems in second place (82%), followed by lower cell count (78%), increased production (74%), lower cull rate (73%) and increased conception rates (66%).

Reduced labour per cow was listed as the number one people benefit by 96 per cent. Improved working conditions and health/safety for the milkers was second (93%) and third (88%) biggest benefit, followed by Allowed business to continue (86%), Increased profitability (82%), Provided entry for next generation (80%) and Increased family time (78%).

46 per cent of the producers indicated they would no longer be in the dairy business had they not modernized.

Read more about the benefits here

Educational resources

99% of the producers toured other farms and 86% used farm visits and seminars conducted by UW-Extension specialists as educational resources. Magazines, newspapers, farm shows and UW publications and newsletters were also used.

Planning and construction time

Average planning time for the projects was 23 months, (from conception to actual use of their new facilities) and the average time for converting from a stall barn to a parlour was 17 weeks. Only 36% reported using a written business plan.

For parlour construction time and cost read the full article here:


The biggest challenge reported was working with contractors and/or serving as the general contractor on the project. The next biggest challenges were: deciding what system and number of cows would work the best on their farm, followed by budgeting and financing, facility design, cost overruns, and finding good and knowledgeable contractors.

When asked what they would do differently if they could do it over the number one response was that they would have done it earlier. The second most popular response was they would have made either the parlor or the free stall barns bigger, and the third highest comment was they would have started at an alternate site to allow for future expansion.

Dairy modernization impacts

Milk production per cow increased by an average of 1,439 pounds, while the average herd size increased by 121 cows. This resulted in an average increase of over 2.7 million pounds of milk sold per farm. The amount of labour per cow was also reduced 50% after modernizing.


Pre modernization

Post modernization


Average herd size




Average production
per cow (lbs)




Milk production per farm annually (lbs)




Annual hours of labour per cow




Milk cows/FTE




Modernization impact on labour requirements

Producers were able to milk almost 2.5 times more cows without adding a lot of additional labor. The top personal benefit reported in the survey by producers was the reduction of labor per cow. These labor savings on a per cow basis allowed producers to expand cow numbers to help pay for their modernization project without having to hire a great deal of additional off farm labor. Annual labour reduction was $309.60/Cow/Yr

The authors conclude that survey information is not an exact science and can’t always predict how dairy modernization will affect a specific farm situation. On the other hand, the results from the survey do confirm the experience of many farmers and agricultural professionals that have found real labor savings, better working conditions, increased cow comfort, and more profitable dairy farms after the dairy modernization. All results from the survey can be found at the Wisconsin University Extension web site


Add a comment

Not logged in

Send comment


Monica Wadsworth

Monica Wadsworth
85 articles

Writer at

Read more »