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Keep it consistent in the parlor

Thomas Lorenzen Published on 10 October 2013

As combines start to cruise through this year’s harvest, simple management routines can often be overlooked on the dairy. One of these practices is providing a consistent milk routine for the herd.

Poor udder health and mastitis can hinder the productivity of dairy herds and is one of the primary reasons producers cull cows each year.



According to the National Mastitis Council, poor milk quality isn’t cheap. The average case of mastitis costs a farmer $184, with two-thirds of that amount due to loss in milk production.

Because mastitis is frequently subclinical or “hidden,” a number of tests have been developed for detecting mastitis. Most tests estimate the somatic cell count (SCC) of a milk sample. All milk contains white blood cells known as leukocytes, which constitute the majority of somatic cells.

The cell count for “normal” milk is nearly always less than 200,000 cells per ml (lower for first-lactation cows). Higher counts are considered abnormal and indicate probable infection.

Higher counts are also associated with decreased production. Low somatic cell counts in milk are correlated with higher cheese yields and longer shelf life.

Lowering SCC is not a new goal for the dairy industry, as the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service “European Health Certification Program” now requires a 400,000 somatic cell count limit based on a rolling three-month average for individual farms.


The three-month rolling average means if a farm is above 400,000, it still would be allowed to sell milk for export for four months as long as the dairy was making progress toward reducing the cell count.

While there are several management tips dairy producers can implement in their program, sometimes all it may take is a little extra time working with your employees.

In the parlor, the milking routine should be quiet and consistent for the cows – from milking to milking and between milking personnel.

If you can establish a good routine and milk clean and dry teats, the paybacks are greater milk yield, milk quality and reduced unit on-time as well as better teat end conditions (in other words, being able to adjust the milking units to milking “wetter”).

The three most important areas to keep up in your dairy regimen are:

Cow comfort
Are your cows overcrowded in the close-up and calving area? Overcrowding is a major contributor to animal stress, increased incidences of mastitis and 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. These cows should have 150 square feet of resting space.

They need 30 to 36 inches of feedbunk and a minimum of 3 feet of available clean water area per 10 to 15 cows.

Spend time keeping cows’ stalls clean, dry and groomed on a daily basis. The time spent here can reduce the incidences of environmental mastitis and reduce the time spent in the parlor prepping soiled teats.

Employee management
When was the last time you spent some time observing your milking team in the parlor? Are they following a calm and consistent routine? Are all your team members following the written protocols for your dairy?

Is their first step to brush off loose soil, sand and organic matter before they forestrip each teat? Do they gently and completely dip the entire teats?

Do they allow 20 to 30 seconds contact time? Do they wipe off the teats completely and gently before they flip the towel over and clean the teat ends?

Utilize your bulk tank cultures because they are a source of information on how good your cows’ teats are being cleaned. Bulk tank cultures definitely show consistency.

Post-dip teats
Remember that teat dipping in conjunction with dry-cow therapy are the two best ways to control the spread of contagious and environmental bacteria.

The primary function of post-dipping the teats is to flush (cover) off the milk film left on the teats wherever the teat was exposed to vacuum during the milking process.

Once the milk film is flushed with dip, teat dip – which is a germicide – will kill residue bacteria on the skin of the teat.

In cold weather
As cooler temperatures come into play, another critical area to pay attention to is when cows are exiting the parlor into wind-chill conditions that can lead to frostbite and frozen teats.

Make sure teats are dry when leaving the parlor. This is extremely important during cold weather.

Dairy scientists suggest that in severe cold weather, even the film of milk should be dried before cows leave the parlor. Instead of not teat-dipping, post-dip the teats and allow 30 seconds contact time, and then wipe the teats dry.

Use germicidal dips that contain 5 to 12 percent multi-skin conditioners to reduce chapping or cracking of teat skin. Avoid washing teats with water in cold weather.

Singe and trim tail hair
It is a numbers game we play when it comes SCC and mastitis. We want to reduce the places organic matter can stick to on a cow.

My suggestion is to implement a standard operating procedure to singe all udders of cows just prior to calving again when drying off the cows and during lactation when the hair is visibly long.

By doing this on a regular basis, it reduces the sediment loads in the milk filter and makes it easier to prep cows while reducing the risk of environmental mastitis.

This procedure can be done in lock-ups or in the close-up area but, if at all possible, not in the parlor.

Consistency and communication with every milking by every milking technician is the key to improving milk quality and parlor efficiency. Remember – always do what is best for the cow and she will reward you. PD


Thomas Lorenzen
On-Farm Support Manager