2008 WI Dairy Modernization Survey: Improved Labour Efficiency

A survey conducted in 2008 by UW-Extension on 99 Wisconsin dairy farms that had recently modernized their facilities revealed several benefits for both producers and cows that result from updating dairy facilities.

The majority of the dairies in the survey were small to average sized family farms with an average herd size of 82 milk cows before modernizing and 203 cows after modernizing. The survey was conducted to determine what the producers had observed as being the major benefits to modernizing, both from the operator and the cow standpoint.

The typical pre modernization dairy system was a tie/stanchion stall barn with a pipeline milking system. While not all the post modernization systems were the same a common design included a new cow barn and a milking parlor. The changes in daily labor requirements as a result of modernizing dairy facilities were gathered through the survey. Daily labor needs on a per cow basis were calculated for pre and post modernization. Milking throughputs were also calculated from the survey data.

The survey asked producers to compare their labor requirements prior to modernizing facilities with the labor needs after modernization. Producers listed the amount of time they spent daily for milking, milking setup and cleanup, feeding milk cows, cleaning and bedding stalls, handling cows and handling manure. Table 1 illustrates the average daily hours reported for each of these daily chores. Note that the pre modernization numbers are for an average herd size of 82 cows and the post modernization numbers represents the daily labor requirements for an average herd size of 203 cows.

Table 1. Pre and Post Modernization Daily Labor Requirement for Entire Herd

Average Total Time
Spent Each Day
on Chores

Pre Modernization
Average for 82 Cows
(Daily hours for herd)

Post Modernization
Average for 203 cows
(Daily hours for herd)

For Each Milking 1



Milking Set up/Clean up



Feeding Milk Cows



Cleaning/Bedding Stalls



Collect/Handle Manure



Handling Cows 2






1Defined as the time from pump on to pump off

2 Includes time for breeding, treating and moving cows

The numbers in Table 1 illustrate that 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.

In the pre modernization system of a tie/stanchion stall the work routine is usually two people milking the cows and then doing the rest of the cow care chores after milking is done. In the post modernization system of a freestall barn and parlor, milking can be done by one person in the parlor while the other person does the cow care chores such as feeding and cleaning the barn, moving cow groups, and helping in the parlor. A two person crew can be very efficient and handle more cows in shorter time frame.

The real labor savings on a per cow basis is illustrated in Figure 1 and Figure 2. The labor savings on a per cow basis were statistically significant for milking, milking set up and clean up, feeding, cow handling, stall maintenance and handling manure. The labor reductions observed on the farms on a per cow basis after modernization was statistically significant.

Figure 1. Average Labor/Cow/Day for Feeding, Handling Cows, and Manure

Figure 2. Labor/Cow/Day for Milking, Stall Maintenance, and Milking Setup/cleanup 

The annual per cow hourly labor savings are listed in Table 2 along with the economic impact of the labor savings based on labor at $12 /hour for each farm. The average farm reported reducing their per cow labor by 25.80 hours per year with almost half of that time savings coming from reduced labor for milking. If labor is valued at $12/hour, the per cow labor reductions is an average savings of $309.60 per year. For the post modernization average herd size of 203 cows from the surveyed farms that would equate to a total annual labor savings of $62,848.80 (203 cows x $309.60= $62,848.80). 

Table 2. Annual Labor Reductions per Cow and Economic Savings for Surveyed Farms


Reduced Time
Per Cow/Day

Reduced Hours
Per Cow/Year


Dollar Savings of
Labor Reduction

Milking Setup/Cleanup










Feeding Milk Cows





Handling Cows





Maintaining Stalls





Handling Manure






4.24 min./day

25.80 Hours



If we took the per cow labor numbers from Table 2 and applied them to a 100 cow herd, that herd would save 2,580 hours of labor for the year which equates to approximately one full time person. This corresponds with the experience that many farms have been able to invest in facilities to modernize and doubled their herd size with a minimal increase in the labor needed on the farm to take care of the additional cows.

Figure 3 shows the milking system throughput for pre and post modernization. Typically that was a switch from milking in a tie/stanchion stall barn (22.7 cows/person/hour) to some type of parlor milking system (44.1 cows/person/hour). The numbers of cows milked per person per hour almost doubled increasing by 21.4 cows/hour/person after modernization.

The number of cows milked/person/hour after modernization ranged from a low of 21.1 cows in a double 12 parallel parlor that was achieving less than two turns per hour, to a high of 108 cows milked/person/hour in a double 16 parallel parlor that was achieving a little over 5 turns per hour. These numbers illustrate that the efficiency of the parlor operators has more to do with cow throughput per hour than does the type of parlor used.

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.

Figure 3. Milking System Throughput for Pre and Post Modernization




University of Wisconsin Extension

University of Wisconsin Extension