A Milking Parlor Retrospective
I had a meeting with our architect, Steve, yesterday to discuss details of our raw milk cheese aging racks. At the end of the talk I asked where we were in terms of progress on the creamery. Our construction team, (members of Navarro’s vineyard crew), are very skilled in construction, concrete work, and welding, and have spent much of the last two years building the dairy rather than working in the vineyards. However they got pulled this week to aid with harvest as rains over the weekend made getting grapes off the vine the more immediate priority. The creamery site has been vacant all this week with Alvaro, Carlos, and Andres occupied with harvest and crush at Navarro. From what Steve told me, we would have been due for a lull anyway.
The roof is on and the next major phase, interior electrical, is being held up by two things. The first is that the building department doesn’t want electrical work to start until the building is sealed from inclement weather. The windows are here and ready for installation, however we are being delayed trying to secure a supplier for the doors we want to order… which are apparently not easy to come by. The second snag is trying to get an additional electrical contractor to put in a bid for comparison to the one submitted by the contractor who did our exterior electrical work. As frustrating as slow downs are, I know I should expect them. To make myself feel better, I went back and looked at photos from October 2009 documenting the progress of our milking parlor. While the parlor was not nearly so complicated a building, it did give me hope seeing that in October we had just poured floors and stem walls and by April 2010 I was milking goats.
I modeled the Pennyroyal milking parlor on the milking parlor I worked in while living in France, albeit with modifications to meet both the PMO and CDFA standards. The room where the goats are milked is completely open on one end and lined with windows on either side to allow plenty of natural light. Two cement platforms run the length of the room, between which the milker operates the milk buckets. Elevating the goats (they mount via cement ramps at the end) reduces the amount of bending over the milker has to do (which my back will thank me for in another 20 years). Each platform holds 18 goats, who position themselves side by side as they insert their heads into the combined head-lock/grain trough. The head-locks (Coburn Company) are a forced cascade, gang release system. Forced cascade means that in the receiving position the first goat to enter the platform must walk all the way to the far end to find an open spot to insert her head. As she does this a lever clicks into place, locking her in and simultaneously opening the slot adjacent to her. The second goat positions itself into the vacant spot and the process continues until all of the slots are filled.
Of course we are talking about goats here, so inevitably they have figured out how to flip open spots in the middle if the goats ahead of them aren’t moving fast enough and they get impatient, but thankfully they typically load in correctly. Gang release means that a bar runs the length of the headlocks and with the turn of a lever they can be opened simultaneously, releasing the entire string of goats. This system is very efficient, eliminating the need to lock and unlock goats individually (though achieving that took some modifications since my girls, clever things that they are, also discovered how to individually release themselves). Grain is delivered via an auger system (two silos are situated outside the building) in premeasured amounts.
The vacuum pump is situated in an adjacent room dedicated to mechanical equipment. The vacuum is delivered via pvc piping to the milking parlor and into a pvc vacuum reserve tank mounted near the ceiling. From the reserve tank two vacuum lines (in stainless steel, for more durability) drop down and run below the lip of each milking platform. An air regulator and vacuum gauge are stubbed into the split so we can monitor the level of vacuum during the milking process. If there are breaks in the vacuum while animals are being milked air, which may contain micro-droplets of milk, may be pushed back at high velocity towards the goat’s teats. If any goat being milked had bacteria in their milk or there was a bacteria containing film on the surface of the vacuum line, those bacteria could then be forced into the udders of her companions. To reduce the risk of mastitis (bacterial infection of the mammary gland) it is important to monitor the level of vacuum and be sure all vacuum lines are kept sanitary. Having a “low-line” vacuum line, ie. one which is located below the level of the animals, makes it more accessible for regular cleaning.
I opted for a bucket milking system (milk goes from the goat into a bucket rather than into a pipeline) for the same reason. My philosophy is, if I can’t see it I can’t be 100% certain it’s clean. While a pipe-line would be an easier means of transporting milk, it is impossible to see all the interior surfaces to know that they are being cleaned properly. It only takes one instance of water temperature being too low for inadequate cleaning to occur which may give bacteria an opportunity to grow. With a bucket system the entire thing is disassembled, manually scrubbed and is easy to observe.
Cleaning and storage of milking equipment happens in the Milk Room (a PMO requirement, milk must be filtered in a room adjacent to where the animals are milked, not in the same room where animals are held). The milk lines which connect the milking cluster (the unit which is placed onto the teats) to the bucket are made of clear silicone, which are cleaned using a bucket washer system that taps into the vacuum line. After rinsing the clusters are submerged in water containing detergent or sanitizer and the lines are attached to a canister under vacuum. Water is sucked through the lines into the canister, filling it. As the canister fills, a plate is pushed up by the water, which as it reaches to top breaks the vacuum. Water is released back down the lines, vacuum returns, and the process repeats. This agitated cycling of water and air cleans the lines. We have temperature gauges in each of the faucets at the sink to monitor water temp and chlorine and pH test papers to verify correct chemical concentrations. After washing, buckets are suspended upside down to drip dry, and the milk lines are hung vertical to do the same (draping lines can cause stress at the apex and cause cracks, where film and bacteria can be harbored).
Key criteria for milking parlor construction dictated by the PMO and CDFA are similar to those applied to the creamery. A sloped floor to trapped drains; floor, wall, and ceiling surfaces which can be easily cleaned; curbed and coved wall to floor junctions; minimum candlefoot lighting; a double compartment wash sink; dedicated hand washing sink; and self-closing doors are all requirements. We went from a rough cement outline in October to a building with all of these features in April. I’m crossing my fingers we can do the same with the creamery!