7 Types of Milking Parlors | Best for Dairy Farms

By Dairy Farming Hut

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Milking is an essential process within the agricultural industry, and it is certainly not an easy task. Obviously, with the current huge growth of the milk and dairy industry, people are not still milking their cows by hand on a large scale. So, how does the industry manage this?

The Milk Parlor was an incredibly important invention in this area. Mechanization and optimization of the milking process are essential to managing the boom in the dairy market. Understanding the best ways to milk your cows is extremely important to keep you ahead of the competition in this field.

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This article outlines the 7 different types of Milking Parlor out there, briefly considering the positives and negatives of each one. We cover tandem, herringbone, parallel, rotary, chute, robotic and parabone methods of milking groups of cows in one go.

Alongside this we will take you through some basic concepts of the milking parlor, whether or not they are good for your cows and the various associated pros and cons of the process.

If that is at all in your area of interest, then read on!

What is a Milking Parlor Anyway?

Despite what some children may have us believe, strawberry milk does not come from pink cows. That aside, the good wholesome white stuff promotes bone growth, strength, and nutrient management within the body. So, the question remains, how does it get from the cow to the pint bottles?

Obviously, the answer is “milking”, but that word means something different in a modern, industrialized, and mechanized world (and associated dairy market). No longer do we have to sit patiently at stools to milk cows, we can get the help of robots, machines, and efficient organization to make this process go lightning fast.

What is a Milking Parlor?

A milking parlor is a room or structure designed to mass milk a large group of cows at once.

These can be large rooms, specific factories or warehouses, your own barn or even an outside portable milker setup, and all of them speed up the milking process.

One Dorset farm is known for its free-range and wide-roaming cattle herds, and uses a unique milking parlor that is moved outside to wherever the cows are! Sometimes the cows get treated better than the farmers.

Are They Good for Cows?

While milking parlors are certainly great for the dairy industry, are they any good for cows?

The parlors run for upwards of 20 hours every day and milk each cow in a large herd approximately three times that day. This is not only more stressful for the cow than traditional milking methods, but they also massively increase the chance of teat disease.

Milking parlors are normally quite expensive, and if they are not cleaned properly and frequently they can soon become big contact points for the transfer of disease in the udders of your herd.

What are the Pros and Cons of Milking Parlors?


  • Great efficiency for milk production
  • Saves farmers time to focus on other elements
  • Gets much more milk out a cow than traditional milking methods


  • Less time spent with your herd
  • Can transmit disease easier

The 7 Best Milking Parlor Types:

1. Tandem

This method of milking parlor design deployment closely follows the philosophy of the tandem bicycle. The tandem bike has two people sat in series on the bicycle during cycling.

Cows getting milked in tandem milking parlor

Much like that vehicle, the tandem milk parlor arranges cows in series, in a nose to the tail formation. This allows the parlor side-on access to the cow’s udder. Cows can also be released one at a time to avoid free movement blockages from slow bovines.

These are side-opening stall types of parlors, each of which is made for a single cow. Tandem parlors are designed to give the milker a side view of the udder. Cows can be released one at a time or several at a time since they all have their own doors. The entrance and exit flow of facilities with these stalls are in one direction.

Pros & Cons of Tandem Milking Parlor


  • Fast milking speed per stall in comparison with other types of parlors
  • Humane. The stall size, preventing it from closing in on the cow, and separating the animal from other animals keep the cow calm.
  • The udder is in clear sight for the milker to monitor, so if any detachment occurs, the milker will know immediately and will be able to correct the problem. Having a clear sight of an udder reduces the chances of lost milk.
  • Access to the udders makes it easy for workers to clean and massage the udders.
  • The tandem building configuration is one with a single return lane (not a dual return). This means that catching and sorting the cows upon their exiting the parlor will be cheaper than those with dual exits as two leaving facilities are not needed. Allows for a fully automatic process that optimizes its efficiency and ease in operation


  • Only for small dairies because these parlor systems offer just up to 200 milk heads.
  • Four to eight stalls are the standard limit for this type of parlor, but eight to twelve stalls can work if two operators are on duty.
  • With only one milking machine on the premises, too many stalls can make it challenging to keep an eye on the cows and the milking machine, resulting in lost milk or wasted time and energy.
  • The tandem design is not conducive to expansion but can be converted to either a Parallel or Herringbone parlor.

2. Herringbone

The Herringbone system is by far and away the most common in milking parlors around the world.

Cattle are arranged at 45-degree angles away from the machine, which allows for a unique access angle for milkers and for farmhands to arrange different equipment near the cows as well. 

The cattle are in rows, side to side with each other at 45-degree angles, kind of like many parking lots.

In this milking parlor design, cows stand on a raised platform “in an angled or herringbone fashion facing away from the operator area.” This positioning lets a worker see the back half of the cow and get up to it for milking from the side with space for an arm-type detacher.

A one-way system assures quick and efficient movement of cattle through the machines. 

Pros & Cons of Herringbone Milking Parlor


  • Construction and maintenance is relatively inexpensive.
  • A high rate of cows per cluster rate mostly because cattle can exit and enter on one side while the opposite row continues to milk.
  • The livestock is in clear view for the dairy operators.
  • Easy to expand if growing your dairy. All you have to do is lengthen it.
  • Cows are calm as they see other cows getting milked right beside them.


  • A considerable amount of walking and moving is required by the milkers.
  • Problems with installing the automatic cup removers have been reported. This complicates the flow of the routine and decreases efficiency.
  • Particularly in the bigger herringbones, loading and unloading do not happen as fast as most would like.
  • When one cow is a slow milker, it can slows down the entire row.

3. Parallel

In a Parallel parlor, cows are unsurprisingly arranged in parallel to each other. Think straight-in parking. This milking parlor only sets itself underway when every cow is loaded in, having one central access point for people to get to the cows (namely the rear end).

There is a one-way system in place as well to avoid blockages and movements, as is standard with a lot of milking parlor.

Pros & Cons of Parallel Milking Parlor


  • Distance between cows and the operating machine is relatively short so not much walking is required.
  • For efficiency in using all the stalls for every round of milking, a line up of interlocking fronts ensure that no stall is used until the one beside it is occupied.
  • High safety structure for milker safety.
  • Adjustable floors in the milker pits
  • Can easily and quickly move animals into position


  • Access to the udder is at the back of the stall between the cow’s rear legs, so there’s a lack of a clear view of the front part of the animal.
  • The between-the-legs access point to udder makes unit attachment somewhat tricky.
  • The stall spacing makes it impossible to use the support arms.
  • Balancing milking units on the udder  is also a challenge.

4. Rotary

A rotary parlor functions a lot like a merry-go-round or carousel for cows. They enter through one way, get into their pod, and the machine spins them around the rotary function while milking. In theory it should arrive them right back at the entrance once they are finished milking.

rotary milk parlor cows milking

After that the cow can exit. As it spins, a new slot will open for another cow to take its place. The stalls are set in a circle along the perimeter of a platform, and there is only one entrance and one exit for the cows

This is theoretically a more efficient way of constructing a milking parlor as it wastes no time between cows getting into the pods and the next cow getting on.

Pros & Cons of Rotary Milking Parlor


  • Very easy on the milker because they don’t have to walk much in order to attach the equipment to the udders. The cows just come around to the workers instead.
  • Quick and easy to move the animals in and out of this design.
  • Automation is easy to apply especially compared with Herringbone.
  • Speed can be lowered if cows appear nervous. This speed control also lets the operators match it to the stage of lactation.
  • A rotary parlor can handle 10 cows a minute.
  • It has sensors that can detect when an udder is empty which is important because overmilking can be harmful to a cow’s health.


  • Fairly expensive as compare to other milking parlors
  • Like Tandem, difficult to expand as your dairy grows
  • A lot of moving parts which could increase your maintenance costs.
  • Cows often finish milking and wait on the platform a few minutes before reaching the exit spot. This is not the most effective use of the cows.
  • The movement and side-by-side arrangement of the cows hinders clear viewing of the udders.

Types of Rotary parlors

Rotary Abeast Parlor

Regarding size and cost, this is the cheapest version of the rotary parlor per cow. Its platform has no moving parts, and cows face the middle and are divided by tubular metal panels. From the perimeter of the platform, the dairy worker can help cows enter but cannot see them during rotation.

Rotary Tandem Parlor

This one is the most expensive per cow relative to commercial space and cost of the rotary versions. In a circle around the operator’s workspace, the cows are lined up nose-to-tail. That worker can see the sides, front, and rear of all the cattle while the platform turns but doesn’t have access to assist the cows’ entry.

Rotary Herringbone Parlor

In terms of cost, this one is in the middle of the three rotary styles. The cows stand facing outward from the middle work area. Dairy workers can see most of the cows as the platform rotates, but not as much view as the Rotary Tandem.

5. Chute

A chute parlor is a cheaper, batch farming version of the tandem milking parlor. Cows are arranged much like the tandem parlor in a nose to tail formation. 

chute milking parlor

The cows enter the stalls and then depart through the next stall when they are all released. That means, the cattle are in the same arrangement, one behind another in a line, but when they exit the dairy, it’s straight out in the direction they’re facing rather than a circle back to the same side into which they entered.

So, the cows enter one end of the parlor, complete milking in a stall, and then continue forward, some through other stalls, until out of the dairy. This improves somewhat on the regular tandem system with these optimizations.

Pros & Cons of Chute Milking Parlor


  • A chute parlor is reasonably cheap to build.
  • It doesn’t require building access passages in addition to the stall rows because of the straight-through path from the entrance to the exit.
  • Operator(s) always have control over when the entry and exit occur.
  • Has the benefit of two-level milking due to the pit in the middle between the two rows of cows.


  • Chutes are meant for small dairy setups.
  • The 2.5-meter distance from one cow’s udders to the adjacent cow’s makes large versions of this type of design impractical. The herringbone design can help to solve this problem.
  • Milk output is less if it's not a hydraulic unit.
  • It’s so “basic” that while it’s helpful to save money initially, it will likely cost more time and labor down the line.
  • The neck bars between which the animal’s head will be held are typically straight, which does not help keep the cow in place. Either get curved ones installed or expect difficulty in keeping the cow still and comfortable.

6. Robotic

A robotic milking parlor is just that, a set of robots that milk your cows.

The robot can be programmed to only process certain cows several times a day, with the option for further milking sessions if the cow wants to do so.

cow in robotic milking stand

These make milking much more efficient, as they do not have to take breaks and can figure out the most optimal way to extract milk from one’s herd. These machines connect to a cow’s teat of their own accord, extract the necessary milk, and automatically release the teat when finished.

It is certainly not a scene from a science fiction film, in fact robotic milking parlors may well be the future of the dairy industry!

Also, the cows have a transponder around their necks with number codes to identify them. Each cow can be identified by its specific number code. When a cow enters and settles into its milking stall, the robot reads the number during the milking process and provides color-coded data to the farmer showing the stage of the milking operation.

Pros & Cons of Robotic Milking Parlor


  • Milking is highly efficient. These robots “know” when to take breaks and when there’s nothing left to tap, disconnecting on its own.
  • You don’t have to hire, train and pay all of the expenses required to have a dairy worker on your payroll.
  • Fastest system for milk production than other parlors.
  • It makes larger herd's milking much easier and faster.
  • It registers when more food is needed and then moves the feed up to the cows' feeder


  • Low profitability for a long time given the initial capital you have to spend to install and get a robotic system up and running. It’s around $175,000 per robot and each robot milks 50 to 70 cows.
  • The robot’s mechanism for attaching to the teat doesn’t always work; after three tries, a dairy worker will have to secure it. So despite its advantage that manual workers are not needed, they still might be.
  • It can take around four rounds of milking to get all the cows familiarized with the new system.
  • If the robots break down, the spare parts that may be needed can be expensive because most of them are made in Germany or Netherland. Between premium and shipping costs, this could be a deal killer for many farms.

7. Parabone

As the name might suggest, a parabone milking parlor merges the parallel and herringbone setups for a milking a large swathe of your herd at once.

The angle is much steeper than that of a herringbone setup, something around 70 degrees (but always less than 90). This allows them to be arranged in parallel, fitting in many more cows than the traditional herringbone.

parabone milking parlor

The one-way system from both is still in place, and these angles allow for access to the udders from between the two back legs of the animal. The arrangement eliminates any possibility of side milking, however.

Milk lines in this setup are usually placed above the heads of farmhands for the most efficient milking possible.

Parabone is typically the choice for farmers with limited space capacity and want a herringbone setup to fit their space. This setup allows a massively increased level of milk production from a whole host of new cows.

Pros & Cons of Robotic Parabone Parlor


  • The steeper angle lets the farmer fit more cows in the dairy at one time than the Herringbone.
  • Provide direct access to the udders from the rear of the animal between its legs.
  • Since the milk lines are installed above the heads of the workers, the milking is quite efficient.
  • Great for farmers with small or limited space, who still want the herringbone set-up.
  • Relatively inexpensive, especially compared with Parallel milking parlor because it requires less steel. 
  • Compared with Herringbone milking parlor, Parabone is cheaper because you don’t need sequence gates.


  • Not possible to do side-milking with this milking parlor design.
  • Not a good design for dairy spaces that are long rather than wide.
  • With no arm takeoffs, you can only milk through the rear legs.
  • This configuration results in it being less clean than herringbone parlors.
  • Parabone milking is of lower quality as compare to herringbone setups.

Final Thought

To conclude, the milking parlor is one of the most important components of any dairy farm. It increases milking efficiency and makes dairy farmer’s job easier. Further enhancements can be done by combining different types of milking parlors as needed.

No matter whichever Milking parlor system you use, the most important considerations for your choice are, efficient milking processes, high throughput with maximum yields, animal-friendly stall design and labor-safe platform.

Interested in reading about the Milking machine operation? Do check useful information on How a milking machine work on a dairy farm.

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