Milking Prep: Same Process, Every Time

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futurecow col logo webTake away all the bells and whistles and the basic premise of a successful dairy operation, regardless of size, is simple: produce as much high-quality milk at the lowest cost possible. While thousands of variables impact this mission, few are as important as the process undertaken to harvest milk from the udder. The process is made more effortless when the cow’s udder is clean and she’s ready to let go of her precious cargo. That’s where the premilking routine comes in.

Ask 10 producers to share their milking procedure and you’ll probably get at least five different answers. Some producers strip teats, some don’t. Some predip teats, some don’t. Some farmers use paper towels, others use cloth towels, and some let teats air dry. The goal is the same: check for mastitis, clean and sanitize teat ends, and stimulate milk letdown.

“Teat cleanliness is important no matter if you’re in the first hour of milking or the eighth,” says Keith Engel, sales specialist and milk quality expert with GEA. “Consistency is key from beginning to end, especially when worker fatigue is involved.”

Worker fatigue can happen anywhere, no matter if cows are milked in a parlor or a stanchion barn. In fact, milking in a stall barn can be even more daunting. In these barns, bending and kneeling to prep udders and attach milker units is no work for the weak of knee, hip or back.

Good Cow Prep Was a Challenge

Ron Seibel, 60, Bloomer, Wis., knows that all too well. He’s been milking cows in his 60-cow stanchion barn his entire life, starting when he was old enough and strong enough to carry a milker unit. Ron, his wife, Mary, and son, Tyler, switch milk 110 cows in the facility, though cows are housed and fed in separate freestall barns.

For years, consistently good cow prep was a challenge. Somatic cell counts were running at 250,000 cell/mL or above, and clinical mastitis was running three to five cases per week. In 2013, Tyler entered a drawing for a FutureCow Prep System and Mobile Cart at the Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. He won.

The FutureCow Prep System is an electric, hand-held teat scrubber that consists of three brushes. The bottom bi-layer brush cleans the teat end while the two smaller, side-by-side, brushes clean and massage the sides of the teat. The unit also dispenses a patented chlorine dioxide disinfectant to sanitize teats while cleaning with the brushes. The unit features a light that illuminates the udder and teat for ease of operation.

The FutureCow Dairy Air Direct Drive was a recipient of the 2017 Dairy Herd Management Innovation Award.

Prior to the teat scrubber coming to Len-Don Farms, the Seibels used a standard prep procedure: predip, strip, wipe and dry. The new unit reduced that procedure to several seconds of prep.

After four years of using the device, the Seibels attribute the better prep process to part of the reason cell counts dropped to under 100,000 cells/mL and detected clinical mastitis cases have dropped to one case per week or less.

Is the teat scrubber process better than conventional methods? University of Wisconsin research determined if new technology could surpass old methods. The conventional method included predipping with a 0.5% iodine solution followed by drying. Both methods reduce bacterial counts, but farm conditions and management practices have a significant effect on teat disinfection.

“Milk quality wasn’t the driving factor in moving toward the FutureCow,” says Lee Kinnard, one of the owners of Kinnard Farms. “When we made the move we were at about 125,000 somatic cell count, and our numbers stayed about the same until our recent expansion. We were happy with the sideways move experienced with using the new technology.”

Start-to-Finish Consistency

Whether you’re milking 50 cows in a stall barn or 5,000 in a rotary, it’s important the same steps are followed for the first cow, the last and every cow in between. The problem with consistency is, on most dairies, people do the milking. And people are anything if not prone to inconsistency. It’s not hard to imagine the first cow could get better treatment when the milking staff is fresh and ready to work rather than the last cow when the milkers are ready to head home.

In 2010, Kinnard Farms opted to change milking procedures and went to the teat scrubber system, installing three units in their original double-36 parallel parlor on the dairy near Casco, Wis.

“Our goal with the new system was three fold,” says Shaun Hardtke, herd manager at Kinnard Farms. “People comfort, animal comfort and milk quality.”

Kinnard’s made the switch to the hand-held device in part due to their concerns about the potential for wrist injuries to milkers due to the repetitive nature of prepping teats. The benefit of the FutureCow on worker comfort wasn’t readily apparent, however.

“I had a lot of our milkers mad at me,” Hardtke says. The unit isn’t heavy, but when used over a 12-hour shift, the weight adds up. Worker forearms hurt at the beginning, but the milking staff got used to it over time and now prefer the FutureCow over hand prepping.

Training was needed to adapt the new protocols while not slowing down the milking process. Milkers needed to learn how to do the “twist,” as Hardtke demonstrates, with their hands to make sure they were getting full coverage.

On their newest dairy, Kinnard Farms sends around 5,000 cows through a 100- stall rotary during a 12-hour shift. One brush is used in the rotary setup.

Prepping time is different in each parlor. In the parallel, milkers take about 7.5 seconds per cow. Because cows aren’t stationery in a rotary, that time is about 5 seconds. Shaving 2.5 seconds off the prep time doesn’t sound like much, but it created changes in the rotary parlor.

“At first we tried using two units in the rotary with two people but it just didn’t work,” Hardtke says. They went back to one unit, with one person stripping quarters, one using the brushes to clean and stimulate, and another drying with towels. “We’d love to get away from the towels, but we’re not there yet,” Hardtke says. Towels are not used in the parallel parlor, opting to use the FutureCow to dry teats because there is time. According to Engel, a majority of FutureCow users dry with the brushes.

The Seibels managed to get away from towels. “We dry teats now if they are still wet before we attach units,” says Mary, who attaches units while Ron preps.

An on-farm, on-demand blending system creates a chlorine dioxide solution for the dairy’s specific bacterial challenge. “We can get a complete pathogenic kill at 600 ppm and calibrate the system on farm to meet the herd’s need,” Engel says.

Brushes are antimicrobial so they don’t harbor bacteria. Engel recommends changing brushes every 10,000 cows. Hardtke changes brushes after every milking.

Now that they’ve used the technology in two parlors for some time, Kinnard could see some adaptations being made. One is to drive brushes with air instead of the sealed motor in each unit. “That could reduce the weight of each unit,” he says. “I would like to see one attached to a robot arm set outside the rotary. This would allow automation to replace this difficult and important task which is currently performed by one person.”

This technology is one way to achieve clean teat ends on cows ready to milk. Doing that for each cow from beginning to end is important for achieving cow health and milk quality across the entire milking herd.

Story by: Mike Opperman
Note: This story appeared in the November issue of Dairy Herd Management.

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