Why Time is Money and the Value of Pipeline Milkers on a Micro Dairy

Reader Contribution by Steve Judge
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Traditional farming wisdom says that time is free. So, it’s OK for farmers to spend time to save money. Following this train of thought, a farmer can spend all day doing chores as long as no money is spent. Are you with me?

This logic has long been applied to the types of milking systems that dairy farmers traditionally invest in. Often times, this ideology leads busy dairy farmers with a few to 50 cows to milk with bucket milkers (instead of installing a pipeline system) because the bucket system is cheaper. You can see where I am going.

Unfortunately, time is no longer without value. In fact, it is quite valuable, especially for people like me, and most small-scale farmers, who work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Check out Part 7 in my series on starting a micro-dairy for more on financial planning.

Let’s say you value your time at $20 per hour. (Maybe this is what you are paid at one of your jobs). Every hour you save in a day represents a $20 return on your investment. Using this math, milking with a pipeline system instead of buckets can save a dairy farmer at least two hours or $40 per day, $280 a week, $1,120 per month or $13,440 per year. You can easily recoup the cost of a used pipeline system, which costs between $5,000 to $10,000, in one year. Even if a pipeline system saves you only one hour per day, that’s $6,720 a year.

Many traditional dairy technicians are like plumbers. They hate working with used equipment because they don’t make money selling their clients new high-margin equipment. I think this is short sighted because used pipelines are relatively common, especially on small-scale farms. Those dairy technicians are limiting their sales by being unwilling to work with used pipelines. And, because most used pipeline systems require upgrades such as new wash controllers, air injectors and regulators, they still have a chance to make money when they sell you the required new components. Bottom line: if you want to install a used pipeline in your barn, you may have trouble finding someone to help you.

This is all to say that I think it makes sense to use a pipeline system if you are milking any number of cows. For one, a pipeline will significantly reduce clean-up time. If you spend more time cleaning up your milking equipment than milking, you are wasting time—and money. In fact, I would say that the ratio of milking to cleaning should be at least 2 to 1. By the way, clean up time with a pipeline system is 10 minutes per milking session.

Now that I have convinced you to use a pipeline, let me tell you what a pipeline is. Essentially it is milking system that takes the milk directly from cow and deposit it directly into a bulk tank. The milk is never exposed to the air in the barn, and cooling begins as soon as it enters the bulk tank. Read more about why cooling the milk immediately is critical. After milking, the pipeline cleans itself. You simply set it up in “Clean in Place” mode, push the start button and walk away. To see how one works view this link. Happy Milking!

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