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Do the 'little things' at your dairy

Tom Lorenzen Published on 18 May 2010

Are you doing the “little things” at your dairy to take your bulk tank from 70 to 80, 80 to 90, or 90 to 95 pounds of high-quality milk per cow per day?

Cows and their environment

Milk quality starts with providing a clean, dry, comfortable environment. When was the last time you did a cow comfort audit? When was the last time you stopped, looked and listened to your cows in their resting place? While spending time watching and listening to your cows get up in the stalls, do we see cows standing idle (standing with all four feet in the stall)? Do we see cows “perching” (two feet in the stall and two feet in the alley) or cows lying diagonally in the stall? A cow comfort audit should include an assessment of the facility for meeting the behavioral and safety needs of the cow, including signs of injury, lameness or behavioral abnormalities.

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High-producing cows need to spend 12 to 14 hours lying down on a clean, dry, comfortable bed. Granted, it is not easy to change the length and width of your current freestalls, but by moving the neck rail up and ahead we can provide more “valuable” inches of space.

Do we groom (brush or rake) stalls every time the cows leave their pens to be milked? Do we provide adequate bedding on a regular basis? Do we clean, scrub and drain the waterers on a daily basis?

A common problem that I have observed on many dairies is overstocking. This leads to dirtier cows, more work for the milking techs cleaning and prepping the cows in the parlor, while reducing parlor efficiency and milk quality. There should be one stall per cow. Cows in loose housing should have 150 square feet of resting space. They need 30 to 36 inches of feedbunk and a minimum of 3 feet of available water area for every 10 to 15 cows.

Overcrowding in dry cow and close-up freestalls is a major contributor to animal stress and increased incidences of mastitis, increased SCC and lower milk quality that does not necessarily show up until 60 to 90 days after calving. Overcrowding in the dry cow pens and close-up pens contributes heavily to calving and post-calving problems.

Veterinarians use many acronyms like DAs (displaced abomasums) and RPs (retained placentas). Well, I have one of my own, EBD (empty bunk disease). I want cows to return from milking to fresh feed, not to an empty bunk. Cows should stand for 20 to 30 minutes after milking to allow the teat ends to close. Without feed present, many cows go directly to the stalls and lie down.

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The milking equipment

Speaking of teat ends, do you know what the end-of-milk settings and delays are on your detachers? Teat condition and teat end integrity are important in maintaining high-quality milk (SCC) and reducing incidences of mastitis. Supporting the milking claw is one of the first things I look at to make sure the milking claw is positioned squarely with the base of the udder to milk the cow out evenly. If the milk hoses are too long, we create “loops” in the milk hose that can cause slugging of the milk, which can affect “end of milk,” thus increasing milking durations.

Twisted liners, poor maintenance of claws, pinched valves, gasket wear and worn hoses can adversely affect milking ability, increase new mastitis infection rates and alter cow behavior in the parlor or barn.

Cows like ‘cowsistancy’

Cows like to be treated in a calm, consistent and gentle manner. Start by milking at the same time every day. All milking techs need to follow the same routine in a calm and quiet manner. Are you using the crowd gate effectively? One way to reduce parlor throughput and reduce parlor efficiency is to have the milking techs go up into the holding area to “push” cows into the parlor. The milking techs should be down in the parlor prepping, addressing liner slips or post-dipping cows.

With a good clean stimulation and proper udder preparation in place on your dairy, we can fine-tune the take-off settings and vacuum levels on the milking system. The primary goal is to reduce unit on-time or milking duration. Research has determined the primary factor regarding teat end condition is milking duration. All dairy producers should work towards the goal of removing the available milk from cows as quickly, completely and gently as possible at every milking.

There are six important procedures that make up a good milking routine.

Brush

Each milking tech should either use their gloved hand or a cloth towel to remove organic matter, sand or bedding that is stuck to the teats.

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Forestrip each quarter

With both hands, strip three to four squirts of milk out of each teat. Forestripping gets the stimulation off to a good start, as well as giving the ability to check for and remove abnormal milk while checking for mastitis.

Foam or dip entire teats

Foam or dip teats completely and gently.

Teat massage

The massaging movement adds to the stimulation process, as well as cleaning the teats. Use a circular downward motion gently with the dry cloth towel. We see many cows kicking during this pass. Always start cleaning the teats the furthest away from you so you end up cleaning the teats closest to you last. This reduces the chance of contaminating the teats with your sleeve or arm.

Focus on teat ends

An important step is to clean the teat ends. Flip the towel over and re-wipe the teat ends. This brings the stimulation process to its peak as well as providing better teat cleaning and sanitation. This adds to stimulation and less dirt organic matter found in the milk filter.

Attachment

Attach the milking unit once the teats are clean and dry in the automatic position before moving to the next cow.

The goal is to milk clean and dry teats that are plump with milk and attach the unit within the 60 to 90 seconds from first touch to first attach. With a calm and consistent milking routine – at each milking and by each milker – you can increase milk yield by 5 percent while reducing unit on-time (milking “wetter”). For each minute the milking unit is attached, there should be at least 6.5 pounds for 3X herds. The first 25 pounds should require no more than four minutes. Each additional 10 pounds should take less than half a minute. Some goals to shoot for would be a minimum of 2 pounds milk in the first 15 seconds, 6 pounds of milk flow per minute with 50 percent of total milk in the first two minutes and peak flows over 9 pounds.

There are three tools I would suggest for your milking team:

  • Establish written milking SOPs
  • Provide regular training meetings
  • Ask for feedback from your team

There are no “magic bullets” in producing quality milk. Stop, look and listen to your cows. It is the “little things” that may not require a major investment to improve quality milk production in your herd. PD

Tom Lorenzen
  • Tom Lorenzen

  • Dairy Program Specialist
  • Alltech
  • Email Tom Lorenzen

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