Milk quality starts from the top down
Review the basics, from top to bottom and start to finish. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes, focused on fundamentals, helps detect problems reducing milk quality.
By Tom Lorenzen
As dairy owners and managers, the quality of the product leaving your dairy is your responsibility. Would you drink the milk from your bulk tank?
Let’s start with your quality goals. What level are your somatic cell counts (SCC), and what level do you want them to be?
When was the last time you conducted a bulk tank culture? If you do not measure it, you cannot control it. If you cannot control it, you cannot manage it.
What type of mastitis (cultured from the bulk tank and individual cows) is present in your herd? Results from bulk tank milk samples must be combined with SCC, and results of individual cow cultures and clinical mastitis records should be used to properly identify the type of bacteria. Review your lactating, dry cow and vaccination programs with your veterinarian to establish written protocols to best address those bacteria challenges.
Here are six key areas to check when evaluating milk quality:
1) COWS & THEIR ENVIRONMENT
Milk quality starts with providing a clean, dry comfortable cow environment. A cow comfort audit should include a facility assessment for meeting the behavioral and safety needs of the cow, including signs of injury, lameness or behavioral abnormalities.
High-producing cows need to spend 12-14 hours lying down on a clean, dry comfortable bed. When was the last time you spent some time watching and listening to your cows in their resting place? Did you observe cows getting up in their stalls and hitting the neck rails? Do you see cows standing idle (standing with all four feet in the stall), or do you see cows “perching” (two feet in the stall and two feet in the alley)? It’s not easy to change the length and width of many current free stalls, but by moving the neck rail up and ahead, you can provide more valuable inches of space.
Do you groom (brush or rake) stalls every time the cows leave their pens to be milked? Do you provide adequate bedding on a regular basis? Clean cows mean less time wasted in the parlor preparing them for milking.
A common problem I’ve observed on many dairies is overstocking. This leads to dirty cows and more work for the milkers, cleaning and prepping the cows in the parlor. That reduces parlor efficiency and milk quality. There should be one stall per cow. Loose housing cows should have 150 square feet of resting space. Cows need 30 to 36 inches of feedbunk space, with a minimum of three feet of available water area per 10-15 cows.
Overcrowding dry cows is a major contributor to animal stress, resulting in increased incidences of mastitis, increased SCC and lower milk quality. Overcrowding in the freestalls, dry cow and close-up pens contributes heavily to calving and post-calving problems.
3) THE CROWD GATE
Cows like consistency. They need to be treated in a calm, consistent and gentle manner. Start by milking at the same time every day. All milkers must follow the same routine. Are you using the “cow moving gate” (crowd gate) effectively?
One way to reduce parlor throughput and decrease parlor efficiency is to have the milkers go into the holding area to push cows into the parlor. They should be in the parlor, prepping, addressing liner slips or post-dipping cows.
4) THE MILKING EQUIPMENT
Teat condition and teat end integrity are important in maintaining high quality milk and reducing incidences of mastitis. Supporting the milking claw is one of the first things I look at to make sure it is positioned squarely at the base of the udder, to ensure even milkout. If the milk hoses are too long, “loops” can cause slugging of the milk, affecting end-of-milk time, increasing milking duration.
Twisted liners, poor maintenance of claws, pinched valves, gasket wear and worn hoses can adversely affect milking ability and increase new mastitis infection rates. It also can affect the cow behavior in the parlor or barn (cows kicking during milking phase). It may lead to more teat end damage.
Speaking of teat ends, do you know what the end-of-milk settings and delays are on your detachers? With good cleaning and proper udder preparation in place, we can fine-tune the take-off settings and vacuum levels on the milking system. The primary goal is to reduce unit on-time or milking duration.
Research has determined the primary factor regarding teat end condition is milking duration. All dairy producers should work toward removing the available milk from cows as quickly, completely and gently as possible at every milking. Shorter duration (unit on time) helps reduce teat end damage common with overmilking.
5) THE MILKING ROUTINE
This is a critical part of milk quality and parlor performance. Take a few minutes to list individual steps, in order of the occurrence, that make up your milking routine:
• Brush. Each milker should either use their gloved hand or a cloth towel to remove organic matter, sand or bedding stuck to the teats. It is much easier to remove organic matter (sand) when it is dry, versus after pre-dipping. I get many calls about stray voltage because cows are “dancing” or kicking at the unit during the milking phase. The actual cause is sand residue left on the teats that become an irritant between the liner and the teat during the milking phase. Less sand on the teats means less sand found in the bottom of the receiver, in the wash vat and in the milk filter socks.
• Forestrip each quarter. With both hands, strip three to four squirts of milk out of each teat. Forestripping gets the stimulation off to a good start, as well as checking for mastitis and removing abnormal milk.
• Foam or dip entire teats. Foam or dip teats completely and gently.
• Teat massage. Massaging adds to the stimulation process as well as cleaning the teats. Use a circular, downward motion gently with the dry cloth towel. We see many cows kicking during this pass. Always start cleaning the teats the furthest away, working toward you. This reduces the chance of contaminating teats with a sleeve or arm.
• Focus on teat ends. Flip the towel over and re-wipe the teat ends. This brings the stimulation process to its peak, while providing better teat cleaning and sanitation, and less dirt and organic matter found in the milk filter.
• Attach unit once the teats are clean and dry in the automatic position before moving to the next cow. The goal is to milk clean and dry teats that are plump with milk, attaching the unit within the 20 to 60 seconds from first touch.
There should be at least 6.5 lbs. of milk for each minute the milking unit is attached (for 3X herds). The first 25 lbs. should require no more than four minutes. Each additional 10 lbs. should take less than 30 seconds.
Goals to shoot for would be having a minimum of 2 lbs. of milk in the first 15 seconds; 6 lbs. of milk flow per minute, with 50% of the total milk in the first two minutes; and peak flows over 9 lbs.
6) TEAM MANAGEMENT
There are three tools I would suggest for your milking team:
• Establish written milking SOPs
• Provide regular training meetings
• Ask for feedback from your team
Producing quality milk is no secret. It is the little things, frequently without a major investment, that improve quality milk production in your herd. Make milk quality your top priority.