Monday, October 15, 2012

The Mobile Milking System

A few years a ago a friend a showed me a picture of a Belgium farmer milking a small herd of cows in a paddock. The farmer was using a portable cow shed. It dawned on me that a cowshed can be totally mobile.

I now believe that a mobile cowshed has a huge amount of potential, particularly for young farmers.

For the last year I have been working with Dr Ian Domigan and the Farm Management Department from Lincoln University, to investigate how the mobile cowshed could fit into New Zealand farming systems. We completed a pilot study earlier in the year which can be found here on the One Farm website.

Below is a mobile cowshed that is being used in Ireland. It is a 15 aside herringbone cowshed and it moves after every milking.

Here is a video of the cowshed in action.

This is another mobile cowshed that is being used in Argentina by a farmer called Luis Peluffo. It’s a bit different to the Irish example but the cows are milked in the paddock and the cowshed moves after every milking.

How Does It Work?
Rather than the cows going to the cowshed the mobile cowshed goes to the cows. The cowshed is simply parked in the paddock and the cows move from the current break (or paddock) through the cowshed and directly onto their new break of grass.

There is a separate trailer which contains the vat, milk cooler, and all wash up facilities. Once the cows have been milked the machine is washed and the portable vat is taken to the main vat located by the tanker track.
The cowshed runs on a generator, which powers the vacuum pump, lights, water pumps, chiller unit and water heating.
The feedback I have had from farmers around the world using mobile cowsheds is that the cows associate milking time with getting fed. They learn that moving through the cowshed is the way to getting onto their new break of grass. So cow flow has not been a problem.

The effluent issue is solved in a different way than a traditional cowshed. In a normal cowshed the cows are brought to the same central holding yard twice a day and all the effluent is collected. That effluent is then spread using some type of irrigator.

The mobile cowshed is moved after every milking. The cows will gather at the entrance of the cowshed. The farmer may put a portable electric fence around the herd to stop them wandering off. The cows then move through the cowshed over the next 1-2 hours (depending on number of cows and the size of cowshed). At the end of milking the cowshed is moved to the next break. So the cows are not standing in the same place twice producing effluent. For the rest of the season the cowshed should not be parked in the same place twice. The resulting effluent discharge, will be the same as a herd of cows standing in a gate way or a mob of beef animals being run through a set of yards.

I have had a few meetings with Environment Canterbury and they have said that this dairy system will may require a resource consent. This is because dairy farms need to obtain consent to discharge effluent onto land. With the mobile system, effluent is not being collected. So you don’t need to discharge it. The view is that this system in the same as a beef farm from an effluent perspective.

I believe there are three areas where the mobile system can be useful. 

  1. Allows sheep/beef & arable farmers to diversify into dairy without having to do a full dairy conversion. This equates to an increase in cashflow.
  2. Allows farmers to move their milking herd to different areas of land. This opens up a whole new world of farming systems, that can reduce nitrate leaching from a dairy herd. Such as integrating a herd of cows into a cropping rotation. 
  3. Provides an alternative pathway to farm ownership. Sharemilkers can partner with sheep/beef & arable farmers, providing additional sharemilking opportunities and cashflow for land owners.
I'm hoping to get the funding together to trial a 200 cow operation, using a prototype mobile cowshed.

So what do you think? Do you think this is a good idea?

I'm keen to hear peoples opinions.


  1. This is interesting Glen.

    The notion of giving alternative avenues to sharemilkers (or lower order, for that matter) moving up given the wall of high land prices, is quite a novel idea.

    And there's one other big plus, off the top of my head. Dairy, as good as it is for now, can't beg off the commodity cycle for ever. Just across the ditch, due to a different dairy industry model, dairy farmers are leaving the land. As a country our economy now has a large exposure to dairy, so if there is a serious hiccup (either payout or animal health - localised or national) then without all that capital sunk in the physical shed - with its concomitant debt - this would allow a farm to diversify out quickly (with option of getting back in quickly).

    Would seem particularly well suited to the smaller 200 cow unit, which has an appeal in itself, mixed in with other farming systems to improve cashflow, but lighter on the land regarding environmental issues. I can't see it catching for 500 plus herds.

    The ECAN angle is the really interesting one. I can see forces behind the philosophy in the proposed Land and Water Plan lining up against it if they see it as a way mainly for sheep and beef units to diversity,cheaply. And that's despite the 'science' might show this would be the future vis a vis environmental issues.

    How much interest are you getting back?

  2. Hi Thanks for the comment.
    Its a different business model. Aiming for cash flow rather than capital gain. I have received good responses from councils. I have been a bit surprised by the muted response from dairy farmers. They not interested at all. They say something like "just go contract milking". Sheep/beef farmers have been quite interested though.

    My focus is to find ways for the next generation of farmers to get into farm ownership, so will try and prove the system next year.


  3. I converted a 150ha sheep/beef farm to dairy just over 20 years ago. During some of the tediously long hours on some of the physical change work I often dreamt/planned a mobile shed operation as my next project. I envisaged that it would principally need a flat contoured farm (which mine wasn't) and ideally suited to irrigation, no more than 200 cows, one man operation (owner operated). Most of the drawbacks to such a scheme are no greater than the drawbacks in conventional dairy farming, so relatively easily resolved in an owner-operator situation. I believe such a system solves many of dairying's conventional problems without creating many new ones.
    The sheep/part dairying option that you are considering has some factors to be aware of. Dairy cows do not like pasture that has been grazed by sheep. Most of the unconverted land is on unfavourable land, contour related mostly, but other things also. Newly converted land which has been well prepared for dairying (pasture species, capital fertilizer, sheep off well in advance) yields production at a discount, about 70% of later years. Annual moves to new blocks will not permit maturity gains.
    There are farms which are unsuitable for conventional conversion which would be ideal for a mobile set-up, but may have the tyranny of distance from a factory.
    The whole concept is exciting, and I regret not doing it ten years ago when I sold my farm.
    I do not view it as a stepping stone to farm ownership.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm thinking 200 cows will be the max amount I would like to milk.But a farmer could scale it. A bit like some sharemilkers have two sharemilking positions. The fact that all the capital intensive items are mobile ie cows, and cowshed means you can milk cows on less than ideal land, because if you run out of feed mid summer for example you can just move the whole operation to some leased land or the neighbours property for a few months.
    The rotation around a sheep property is a concept to reduce nitrate leaching. Some detailed thought will need to take place to get the most out of that system. Maybe use the cows rotation as a chance to regrass the farm.
    The reason this can help with getting to farm ownership is it allows someone to make a good deal of cashflow like sharemilking, which they can then save and use as deposit for first farm.

  5. I comment further a little reluctantly lest you find it discouraging.
    When I did my conversion, my dairying neighbours told me it could not be done successfully. I found this encouraging. I felt empowered that I could make it work whereas they lacked my vision. It was very satisfying.
    I believe that a mobile system has enormous potential, and I cannot conceal my "envy" that it is not me doing it. I wish you only success.
    Where you start your enterprise will have a major bearing on profit margins. I am surprised that your figures allow for a stocking rate of 3 cows per ha on drystock land, and 380kg ms per cow. Advantages of the mobile system may well give a production lift, for several reasons, but I would urge a more cautious production budget particularly for year 1. Of course you have a number of options available, that could swing reality your way, that I cannot factor in. But if your are seeking a partnership of some kind, hitting your marks become make or break.

  6. Have a look at this . It seems like a much better system.

    Anyone foresee any difficulties integrating this into NZ style grazing management? Any other problems?

  7. Glen, you might be able to embed the youtube link; I didn't know how to do it here.

  8. On steeper country could it be shifted to certain designated farm points and still aviod conventional effluent issues?

  9. Hi Glen,
    I was in email contact with Jill regarding the mobile milking system. She suggested I get in touch with you as she is in Vanuatu. I've left a message on your fb page as I couldn't find an email link with Lincoln University.


    1. Hi Dan, you can get me on glen dot herud at gmail dot com.

  10. Very impressed with your systems and analysis. Ultimately isn't the rate of nitrogen leaching into waterways determined by the adult cow stocking rate? I don't understand how rotational crop production can re-capture the excess nitrogen leaching into the water. Are we milking the right size animal? Shouldn't much smaller cows leach nitrogen much less than standard dairy breeds for big production.

  11. Hi Geln,
    we own a cafe in ChCh, we really want to buy your milk and will promote your milk. How do we do that. Please call me 03-3778853 Mei .

    1. Hi Mei
      Thanks for your interest. would you mind emailing me Cheers

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. Hi Glen

    I believe this product will have an opportunity in my country regardless if it works for NZ work environment. the reason is that dairy farmers in my country does not have the capital to invest in a dairy cow shed plus an effluent management system. So if your product works same as a good milking system it could definitely work in my country.

    I would like to hear more about this product.

    Nelson Medina

  14. Hi Glen.
    Awesome blog. I had a similar idea 15 years ago when I left teaching to become a dairy farmer. Somewhere along the way I got sidetracked into "normal" farming. For the last two years we have been bouncing around the idea of local milk supply. We currently supply raw milk once a week to a small group of consumers.but as you discuss in one of your posts it is fraught with issues...not least of which is wiping cow teats! We currently supply Fonterra but this doesnt really fit my world view, im much more a fan of the locavore movement than globalisation. I would love to correspond with you more about the insand outs of what you have achieved.

    Keep up the inspirational work!

  15. We are a mobile milking equipment manufacturing company from Lithuania, EU, which uses similar approach manufacturing and selling mobile milking equipment for organic-ecological farms. You can find our products and information about us on
    We produce unique mobile milking parlors which can be used in the field making milking process less stressful and ecologic. We have experience of manufacturing and delivering mobile milking equipment worldwide and can offer our products. We offer door to door shipping, installation and service possibilities.
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