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Milking system optimization: It’s a continual process

Mark Walker for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 May 2019
Looking at the system

Milking system optimization not only leads to better overall milk quality, but it’s also good for your cows and can have a positive impact on employee attitude and performance.

While many dairies have a scheduled maintenance program, they do not always have their systems optimized – there is a difference. There is also a difference between having a system analysis conducted and having a system optimized.

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Here’s an overview of what’s involved with each:

  • Maintenance: Involves replacing worn parts, including liners and milk hoses.

  • Analysis: Ensures system components meet manufacturer recommendations, such as vacuum and pulsation levels.

  • Optimization: Improves system functionality for peak performance – from cow flow and milking time to udder health.

“Optimize” is defined as: to make perfect, effective or functional as possible. No milking system is perfect, but we can strive to get as close as possible.

Three areas to consider

When a milking system is optimized, it requires a thorough evaluation of three key areas:

  • Cows: Everything from cow flow to the parlor and proper pre-milking and post-milking routines should be evaluated. Are steps in place to get cows in and out of the parlor as calmly and quickly as possible? Are the cows staying clean to minimize the risk of mastitis?

  • People: Milking system optimization will look at the milking process, start to finish, from an employee standpoint. An area to pay close attention to is milking staff turnover. For new employees, optimization can mean evaluating new hire training, resources, standard operating procedures and more.

  • Equipment: Optimization will take a closer look at the system to match equipment with overall management and vacuum and pulsation settings with liners.

Not all milking systems should be or can be optimized. Failures in any three of these areas can cause the others to fail. For example, attempting to improve the functionality of a poorly installed or maintained system can yield few results, and often leads to other issues down the road. Milking faster when you have a poor milk path will cause cows to milk slower and can result in udder health issues.

Keep in mind that while you may not need to spend money to perform optimization, updates needed afterward could come with a cost. Make sure the costs are necessary to improve performance, rather than being suggested to make a sale.

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And if you’re happy with how your dairy is performing, optimization probably isn’t something to consider for the time being.

Find qualified expertise

Who should be involved in optimization? The person doing optimization should be fully trained, up-to-date on system testing and evaluation techniques, and know how it affects the cows.

Many milking equipment manufacturers offer training for their dealers and service personnel, but that doesn’t guarantee optimization is done correctly and consistently. This is the same for independent evaluators as well. To create industry consistency, the National Mastitis Council (NMC) created a process and an evaluation form for milking system analysis that allows for a thorough evaluation of your milking system.

Look for an expert who is proficient in NMC testing. But be careful: Not everyone who says they can perform NMC testing is qualified. Quiz the potential evaluator about their knowledge of testing. Ask them where they received their training and who conducted it. NMC courses use qualified experts to ensure evaluators are well-trained, no matter which brand they represent.

Conduct the optimization

Before starting the optimization process, a system analysis needs to be performed to ensure the entire milking system is functioning properly. System optimization can only be achieved when many areas are working together to be efficient and effective.

Once the system has been evaluated thoroughly and professionally, found to be within the manufacturer specifications and able to go to that next level, it can be considered for optimization.

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Then you will need to evaluate the factors that influence optimal milkability. Here’s an overview by key area:

1. Cow-related

  • Physiology and anatomy
  • Cow environment and housing
  • Sanitation – cow cleanliness

2. Operator- or milker-related

  • Cow handling
  • Cow preparation

o Unit attachment

o Unit alignment

  • People’s attitude

3. Equipment- and system-related

  • Milk production and flow rates
  • Pulsation characteristics
  • Pulsation rates and ratios
  • Milking vacuum levels
  • Liner design and composition
  • Overall milk path – milk hoses, milk inlets, etc.
  • Unit alignment and support
  • Vacuum regulation and capacity

Once these areas have been evaluated and necessary adjustments have been made, your system should be fully optimized to milk cows safely, gently, quickly and completely.

The right time to reoptimize

To determine how often you should optimize your milking system, consider changes you’ve made with your cows, people and equipment:

  • Have you made cow group changes or added new cows?

  • Do you have many new employees on staff?

  • Has scheduled maintenance been completed on schedule and correctly?

  • Have the milk and pulsation hoses been changed recently? Are they the correct length?

  • Has the milk line slope been checked over in the past year?

  • Have you changed out any core equipment components (pulsators, milking units, vacuum pump)?

  • Did you change out liners for a different model?

If you’ve made major changes in any of these areas, then it’s probably time to reoptimize your system.

By improving the functionality of your milking system, you can reduce unit on-time, which can mean healthier teat ends and more time for cows to rest and be in front of feed and water. Also, you can improve overall milk quality to protect your bottom line.

But the best reason to consider optimizing your milking system is – it’s good for your cows.

Find out how to take your milking system to the next level by contacting your milking equipment dealer for a full system optimization.  end mark

PHOTO: Optimization will take a closer look at the system to match equipment with overall management and vacuum and pulsation settings with liners. Photo courtesy of GEA.

Mark Walker is a national sales and support manager for milking and liners with GEA. mail Mark Walker

Did you know?

Factors affecting milking speed include:

  • Claw vacuum level
  • Pulsation settings (milk rest ratio)
  • Liner compression

Factors affecting milking completeness include:

  • Liner model
  • Milking unit weight
  • Vacuum level

Factors affecting teat condition (gentleness) include:

  • Liner fit and compression
  • Claw vacuum level
  • Pulsation settings (milk rest ratio)

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