Optimize milking equipment

Optimizing and maintaining your milking equipment is important for milking efficiency and udder health. Focusing on five areas can help you reach peak efficiency and monitor performance.

1. Vacuum. Milking system vacuum should be based on average peak milk flow claw vacuum, which will vary depending on average milk flow rate. Average flow rate is reliant on multiple factors, including milking frequency, udder prep lag times, milk production and take-off settings.

Monitor

• Check the vacuum gauge during every milking shift.

• Maintain vacuum pump and filters regularly to ensure proper function.

• Check for plugged air holes in milking unit.

2. Pulsation rate & ratio. Pulsation is broken into four phases: A) opening, B) open (milk phase), C) closing and D) closed (massage phase). To optimize pulsation rate and ratios, look at the time (milliseconds) spent in each phase so the system can be set to provide optimal milk and rest phases for safe, fast and comfortable milk out and healthy teats.

Monitor

• Have pulsators graphed regularly by a qualified technician. Graphing frequency should increase with usage and if problems are identified.

• If debris enters the air hoses, coach milkers to communicate these issues with management so action can be taken.

3. Liners. Liners should fit the average teat size in the herd, and vacuum should be set properly for that specific liner. Change liners according to the manufacturer’s recommendation to maintain efficiency, minimize liner slips and maximize performance.

Monitor

• Change liners, air tubes and milk hoses on a regular schedule. Check for holes in the air tubes during each milking.

• Align arrows on liners for proper function.

• If you notice fluctuations in milk out and average flow rate when you change liners, replace them more often.

4. Automatic take-offs (ATOs). ATOs provide consistency in milking unit detach times, but must be properly set to prevent overmilking. Proper udder prep procedures, unit attachment and alignment are vital to proper ATO function. ATOs should be adjusted to account for changes in production and milking frequency.

Monitor

• Strip yields measure residual milk after milking, an excellent indicator of milking performance and ATO setting. Immediately after milking, hand strip each quarter for a maximum of 15 seconds, measuring the milk amount from each teat. If strip yields are less than 250 mL (0.5 lb.)/cow, the cow should be considered milked out. If yields exceed 500 mL (1 lb.)/cow, milk out problems may exist. Your goal should be 40 to 100 mL/quarter. If individual quarters have high strip yields, proper unit attachment and alignment should be checked.

5. Wash system Monitor

• Chemical levels should be balanced for system size, hours of operation and type of equipment.

• Ensure your wash system is draining quickly and completely, and that the air injector is set to create a proper slug.

• Monitor quality counts and temperature, and visually inspect equipment regularly.

Other key parlor monitors

Parlor shift reports. Customize a report to monitor progress toward your goals. Average milk flow rate, average unit on time, milk/stall/hour and time to milk are excellent monitors.

Teat end scoring. Scoring can identify incidence of hyperkeratosis and other teat health problems.

Scheduled maintenance. Have a complete list of scheduled maintenance, indicating who will be responsible for each task and how often it must be performed. Enlist the help of your equipment dealer to ensure proper equipment maintenance. Perform a system check at least once a year using NMC guidelines.

As changes in your herd, management, procedures, equipment or goals occur, changes in equipment settings may be needed. Monitoring and regular maintenance will keep your milking system working at peak performance and keep you informed of changes that should be made.

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