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Speed without sacrificing quality: Wisconsin dairy achieves impressive milking time

Julie Ashton for Progressive Dairyman Published on 25 September 2017
Tom McClellan feeding a calf

With an average milking time of 3.9 minutes per cow, 87,000 somatic cell count (SCC) and 89-pound herd average, Tom McClellan of McClellan Farms Inc. has found a successful formula to producing extremely superior milk.

A detailed milking procedure, concern for cow comfort and quality nutrition also promotes excellent production on 470 cows. This combination has earned the dairy numerous milk quality awards, including a National Dairy Quality Platinum Award in 2009.

Started in 1926 as Swiss Croft Farms by McClellan’s grandparents Bruce and Betty, McClellan Farms Inc. is located on the original homestead in Delavan, Wisconsin. Today, McClellan Farms Inc. is home to 500 Holsteins with a herd average of 30,800 pounds of milk with 3.9 percent fat and 3.1 percent protein.

The milk is marketed through Grande Milk Marketing LLC, and they pay a premium to the McClellans for their consistent high-quality milk. “Grande has always placed an emphasis on SCC,” McClellan says.

See more of the operation in this slideshow.

World-renowned milk quality specialist Dr. Andrew Johnson, also known as “The Udder Doctor,” has been influential in helping the herd achieve the benchmarks Grande targets. Johnson is the herd health and wellness veterinarian at Grande Milk Marketing and meets with the farm on a quarterly basis to discuss protocols for proper milking procedures and helps address any issues that may arise.

Dr. Andrew Johnson

Cows are milked on a 3X schedule with an hour between milkings. Two milkers prep four cows each per side. McClellan cites their milking procedure and strict adherence to it as a top reason why they have been so consistent with low SCC counts. The protocol includes:

  • Dry wipe

  • Pre-dip with chlorine dioxide

  • Rub teat end and strip

  • Re-dip with chlorine dioxide

  • Wipe with individual cloth towel

  • Attach at 90 seconds after first stimulation

  • Detach when milk flow is under 2.4 pounds per minute with two-second delay

  • Post-dip with 1 percent iodine with conditioner

“The more physical contact with the teat end, the better,” Johnson says. “I haven’t seen another dairy that stimulates the teat end more, and they are seeing the positive effects of that.”

The average milking time is 3.9 minutes per cow, which calculates to more than 70 cows per hour with an average of 8.2 pounds of milk per minute per stall or about 126 pounds of milk per stall per hour. Another figure Johnson watches closely is the number of pounds of milk in the first two minutes, which directly relates to udder stimulation, and the dairy is over 20 pounds in two minutes.

“We’ve only seen positive results from achieving these speeds,” McClellan notes. “We are more efficient and profitable because we can move more cows through the parlor without the need to expand.”

Other key factors to achieving these benchmarks that Grande and Johnson have established include moving the cows in a calm fashion so they are comfortable walking into the parlor and training the cows how to be milked.

“We can make individual adjustments per cow, but we really try not to,” McClellan says. Johnson adds the farm’s teamwork among the owners, milkers and equipment dealers is paramount.

“Maintenance is key in the parlor since it runs around the clock,” McClellan says. “There isn’t another piece of equipment on the farm that is used as much as the parlor, so we ensure it is running at top speed all the time.” Inflations designed for fast milking are used and changed every two weeks.

Pulsators and the milking system are graphed monthly. Pulsators, hoses and meters are also changed out on a strict schedule. Johnson says having proper monitors in place is key in order to immediately see if changes they’ve made to the system are having an impact.

While the majority of the time their system runs flawlessly, they did have some teat-end issues due to a post-dip change. “Our somatic cells increased and flow rate crashed,” McClellan recalls. “We quickly identified the dip as the issue and removed it from use, but the damage was done.” Between that and the removal of rBST in December 2016, their cull rate increased to 40 percent.

Cow comfort is also a key component to ensuring these benchmarks are met. The majority of their freestalls are 48 inches wide, and there are fans or tube ventilations in the barns. Sprinklers are also used in the summer months when necessary. Stalls are sand bedded weekly and cleaned each time cows are moved.

Whether it’s fine-tuning the milking procedure or making adjustments to facilities, McClellan Farms is in tune with what is necessary for its cows to achieve optimal success. With 20 consecutive years of milk quality awards, the formula the farm team created with the help of their trusted advisers is a key to the farm’s profitable outcome.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Tom McClellan knows a healthy herd starts with a strong foundation. He is pictured here feeding calves.

PHOTO 2: Wisconsin veterinarian Dr. Andrew Johnson says of the farm’s milking protocol, “I haven’t seen another dairy that stimulates the teat end more, and they are seeing the positive effects of that.”  

Julie Ashton, a freelance writer based in northern Illinois, grew up on a registered Holstein farm and specializes in the dairy industry. Photos by Julie Ashton.

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