Cow health: where milking, environment and cow comfort meet

By Keith Engel

During summer we often see small problems exacerbated, becoming much larger challenges. The milk quality trifecta — milking procedures, environment and cow comfort — plays a critical role in maintaining cow health and production throughout the summertime heat and all year long.

Manage your evaporative cooling

One of the key elements in maintaining udder health and milk quality is providing your herd with a clean, dry environment to prevent bacteria growth. In the summertime, we try to keep cows cool and comfortable to maintain milk production, but keeping cows’ udders dry can be a challenge.  Mastitis-causing organisms need three things to survive—food, water and heat. In the summer, what was once dry and comfortable for cattle is often wet from humidity and cooling systems, which means bacteria have access to all three key elements for survival, causing additional challenges for optimal udder health.

It’s critical to evaluate the combination of water from sprinklers and air from fans to eliminate excess water that will eventually reach the udder. This can be done by monitoring proper droplet size for the sprinkler, having a timer in place on your sprinklers, and providing enough properly placed fans for effective evaporative cooling.

Compromised udder health in summer months

Cow health is often compromised in summer weather. Lowered dry matter intakes, less time lying down and more moisture in the cow’s environment all add together to reduce the cow’s ability to fight disease. Because the cow’s immune system is compromised, additional cases of mastitis may occur. By providing the proper comfort and a clean, dry environment, you can help cows fight bacteria by removing it from the environment and boosting immune response.

Cow comfort is one way to improve immune response. Check and regulate the following areas on your dairy to ensure cow comfort is maintained through all weather challenges, resulting in improved immunity status.

  • Holding pens. Prior to milking, holding pens can get extremely hot and often are regulated with high water usage. Provide a good combination of fans and sprinklers to cool the cows without soaking the udder.
  • Feed alleys. Cows spend a large amount of time at the feed alleys, and it’s critical to encourage optimized intakes during the summer heat. Minimize cow’s exposure to wet conditions by keeping the feedbunk area clean and dry with proper evaporative cooling.
  • Freestalls. Ensure your current stall bedding and grooming schedule meets the needs of cows by providing a dry, comfortable environment. Change your bedding practices as necessary in the summer to ensure clean, dry and comfortable stalls.

Use teat cleanliness scoring to ensure teat ends are cleaned properly prior to milking. Removing bacteria before unit attachment is critical to minimize new udder infections and reduce the level of bacteria that come into contact with the teat end. Many times it takes a cleanliness test to actually see how much is being left behind on the teat end.

Use teat cleanliness scoring to ensure teat ends are cleaned properly prior to milking. Removing bacteria before unit attachment is critical to minimize new udder infections and reduce the level of bacteria that come into contact with the teat end. Many times it takes a cleanliness test to actually see how much is being left behind on the teat end.

Remove the outside environment

Outside the parlor we’re focused on managing the environment that comes in contact with the udder; inside the parlor we’re focused on removing the environment from contact with teats. Removing the environment is essential to optimize milk quality and minimize the rate of new infections. By paying extra attention to this during the summer months, you’re setting your herd up for success as the cooler weather approaches. To achieve this focus on the following:

  • Drying teat ends. When teats are exposed to high levels of moisture, ensure teats are dried well prior to milking. Make sure milkers wipe in a downward twisting motion, and then flip the towel with thumb in towel to properly clean the teat end. Starting the udder prep process by dry wiping with a towel in the summer months will help to remove moisture and debris and make predip all the more effective.
  • Keeping liner heads clean. Pay close attention to maintaining liner head cleanliness. Have a defined procedure using sanitized water in drop hoses to maintain clean liner heads without overusing water in the parlor.  Make sure milkers focus on cleaning liner heads and vent holes rather than just spraying towards the milking unit.

Optimizing the cows’ environment and the environment’s influence on teats will help maintain cow health, performance and, ultimately, milk quality. Focus on parlor procedures, the cow’s environment and cooling methods to yield high-quality milk, regardless of the season.

FYI

Keith Engel is Sales Consultant – Hygiene & Supplies, with GEA Farm Technologies/WestfaliaSurge. Contact him via e-mail: Keith.engel@geagroup.com

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