Shorter Milking Secrets

“Getting the most out of your dairy.”

Section 1 – Introduction to Shorter Milking Secrets

Research has proven that the vast majority of cows can milk out cleanly in a time related to the amount of milk they are producing.  Countdown Downunder has for some time been advancing the idea that milking can be time related.

Work funded by Dairy Australia and conducted by National Milk Harvesting Centre Researchers at Ellinbank showed that milking to a maximum time has benefits in saving time without challenging milk quality and udder health.  The work has been carried out over a number of years with cows from the research farm as well as on commercial farms. 

The simple take home message from all of the work is that it is very possible to milk out to a set time related to milk yield.  The trials found no loss in overall production, no increase in mastitis and no significant increase in somatic cell count. 

*1st key message  – Milking to a time related to the yield can save milking time*

Section 2: Getting the most from your dairy

The main ways to reduce milking time in dairies are use of automation and how to deal with slow milking cows.

It is important to have a look at the factors that impact on the throughput of a dairy. They involve:

1. Understanding what a milker can do in an hour (work routines) and

2. What the equipment can do.

Getting these two in balance is the secret to having an efficient milk harvesting system.

It is useful to have an understanding of the work routine in your dairy. What tasks do you need to do and how long should they take.  There is no right answer or one best way for everyone. Some dairies have more streamlined routines than others.  What is their secret?

The second part involves the number of cows the clusters in your dairy can milk in an hour. The exact calculations are found in the CowTime Guidelines (starting on page 179). The dairy type is very important in this calculation. Slow milking cows hold up other cows in herringbone dairies and by going around twice on rotaries may take up milking time for other cows.

To get the maximum cow throughput with the minimum capital investment you need to balance the two results.  Putting in more clusters does not always mean more throughput.   Understanding what is holding your dairy performance back gives the key to how to improve it.

In some dairies there is a long time spent getting cows in and out.  This is often the most time consuming job in the milking routine.  The other common frustration is waiting for slow milking cows.  How long do you wait?   How much time do they really need? Is there a solution other than culling them? 

*2nd  key message – Develop an understanding of what your labour and clusters should reasonably be able to do in your dairy*

The average work routine time is generally between 25 and 30 seconds in herringbones. In rotaries the work routine time varies from about 8 to 12 seconds or so.  Having a good look at your work routine and the time it takes to complete tasks may suggest some areas to explore to improve the cow throughput of your dairy.

Now consider your equipment throughput.

As a very rough rule of thumb the following table suggests the approximate number of cows that can comfortable be milked in particular dairy types.

Dairy Type




Double up




This table has the average idle times for clusters in particular dairy types

Dairy Type

Idle time


15 seconds or ¼ minute

Double up

From 2 minutes (8 a side) to more than 5 minutes (>16 a side)


1½ minutes

How can the throughput be improved?


Automation can be used to help reduce tasks for the work routine or to reduce the time needed by the milker for tasks. Not all automation makes milking shorter.  The main things that can make milking faster are stall gates and entry races. ACR, automatic teat spraying, auto drafting and automatic feeding can help but in many ways do not save a huge amount of time.

Automation can save time and labour if used wisely. Many of the options are costly in terms of up front capital outlay. This is often the major reason why more people have not adopted many items of automation.

Maximum Milk Out Time (MMOT)

The second area where time can be saved is in the time given to milk out cows. This is an area where something can be done with little or no capital cost involved.

Do you wait for cows to milk out? Do you have cows that justify 14, 16 or even 18 minutes of milk out time?

The simplest way you can check this is to get an idea of how long the clusters have been on a slow milking cow.  If you know what her production is just look up on the table in Quick Note 1.5 "Maximum Milk Out Times (MMOT)" to see what the suggested maximum milk out time is. When that time is reached and she is still milking, take the cluster off.

Most people milk until they believe the cow is milked out.  ACR’s are set to activate at a defined flow-rate. Most people eyeball the bowl and make the decision. In some cases milkers have difficulty in explained to someone else what their visual trigger point is.  Whatever you do to decide when the milking is done we are now adding one other trigger. Continue to milk as you have done in terms of deciding the end point of milking. On top of that however we are suggesting that once enough time has expired in relation to the milk produced then the cluster should be removed as well.

We are referring to this as Maximum Milk Out Time (MMOT). Try out our simple on-line MMOT calculator.

Quick Note 1.5 "Maximum Milk Out Times (MMOT)" contains a description of how to apply MMOT in general.

Quick Note 1.6 applies MMOT to Swingover dairies, Quick Note 1.7 is MMOT for double up dairies and Quick Note 1.8 is MMOT for rotary dairies

*3rd key message - The wise use of automation and not giving cows too much time to milk out can save time*

*4th  key message  -  Make sure that your system is working to it’s best gives you the best value for your money*

More Resources

Watch these videos on Shorter Milking Secrets:

Shorter Milking Secrets
Maximum Milk Out Times: Double ups
Maximum Milk Out Times: Rotaries
Maximum Milk Out Times: Swingovers

See case study farmers who have implemented a Maximum Milk Out Time and saved time in the dairy:

  •  Short shrift for slow cows
  •  Cut a third off milking time
  •  Labour, lifestyle revolution
  •  Never say never!
  •  Looking at labour differently
  •  An hour more a day to play
  •  A few cows hold up the whole milking
  •  Swapping milking time for family time


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