How modern day dairy sheds have evolved in dairy farming


Dairy farming is an ever-changing industry so let’s start with a brief overview of some key events in the timeline.

  • 1814, the first cows arrived in NZ.
  • 1893, a Scottish mechanical milking machine was trialled with the first milking machines starting to come into use in the early 1900s.
  • 1940s, over half of New Zealand’s farms are using milking machines.
  • 1948, many aspects of farming are revolutionised with the arrival of the first British-made Ferguson tractor.
  • 1951, tanker delivery of whole milk from farms to factory begins.
  • 1952, development of the herringbone dairy.
  • 1969, the first turnstyle dairy developed, forerunner to the rotary.
  • 1985, the Ruakura milk harvester is developed. This system has many of the features we know of modern day milking.
  • 2001, the dairy industry is deregulated. The first cow is milked with an Automatic Milking System.
  • 2013, a new dairy industry strategy is launched that focuses on competitive and responsible dairy farming. 


The first dairy sheds had rough floors of earth or stone, and more often than not, poor drainage. They were difficult to clean as they often lacked access to water and/or a way of heating it.

Hygiene didn’t really improve until the 1920s when regular inspections by the Department of Agriculture started.

The original walk-through bails featured rear chains and leg ropes to prevent cows walking backwards or kicking. Floors were made of concrete and had channels for milk spills. Water was now available for cleaning effluent and was generally heated by a wood-fired copper.

As shed designs varied over the years, milking became easier. Step-up platforms made the working height more comfortable for those milking and meant they could apply the cups from behind rather than the side.

Pit parlours had trenches behind the cows so that milk-machine operators stood at udder level and could reach up for the mechanical milk clusters that hung from central milk lines above their head.

Inspired by angled car parking and so named because it resembled a fish skeleton, the Herringbone dairy shed was developed in the 1950s. This design combined pit parlours with angled stalls on either side and meant twice as many cows could be milked at once. It didn’t take long before almost all new milking sheds were built using this design, a trend that continued for at least half a century. 

The rotary platform, invented in the 1960s by a Taranaki farmer, consisted of a raised circular concrete or steel platform on wheels driven by electric motors. Cows walk on and are milked during one rotation by operators standing on the outside of the platform. The beauty of this system is that on big rotary platforms a thousand cows can be milked by just two people in just a few hours.


In more recent years, cows are assembled in a holding yard and are gently nudged towards the milking area by a backing gate. Smart animals, cows quickly learn to position themselves for milking leaving operators free to wash teats, attach and remove the cups, and let them go once milking is complete. 

Modern dairy systems contain a machinery room with pumps and coolers, and a vat room where milk is stored. Yards also often have stalls where cows can be checked for health procedures or undergo artificial insemination.

They also feature much better ways of dealing with effluent such as robotic channel scrapers.


The very latest advancement in modern dairy techniques has been the trialling and introduction of robotics; automatic milking machines run by a computer. Cows walk voluntarily to the milking shed once or twice a day and wait for their turn in the robot milker. No human assistance is required. 

Innovative advancements in dairying, such as advanced milk sensors and herd management software, have played a big role in driving productivity forward. Compared to simply extracting milk from the cow, as was the way in the beginning with old fashioned dairy sheds, the integration of technology in modern farms has enabled farmers to fine tune milk production while also maintaining accurate real-time data about each individual animal.


Download our free info pack to see how our modern Dairy Barn Systems can help you.


* Image sourced from Te Ara