Are you getting the most out of your milking parlour?

As we head into 2019, dairy farmers are being advised to consider what parlour management changes they should consider to make their business more resilient for the future.

Cheshire Vet, Bill May, Veterinary Surgeon/Director at LLM Farm Vets in Cheshire who is widely recognised for his particular expertise in mastitis and cell count management, has some recommendations for parlour management.

“First and foremost, ask yourself if the machine is working correctly,” says Bill. “All too often, it is easy to do the bare minimum in terms of testing and maintenance – yet the milking machine is a major investment to your business and can significantly affect the quality of the milk produced and the health of the animal.  If not functioning correctly, it can cost you a considerable amount of money. Whilst every farmer has to focus on costs, this is one area that requires more attention on many farms and investment here definitely has the potential to save you money.

“It may seem obvious, but make sure you have someone qualified to test the equipment – having a technician with the Parlour Safe industry accreditation will give you confidence that the critical elements of the equipment are being tested to the appropriate standards. You wouldn’t have your car tested by someone not qualified – apply the same logic to your parlour.

“I want to emphasise this because, through my job, I am frequently called out to farms that are having mastitis problems which can often be related back to either the milking machine or to milking routine issues.

“A milking time assessment of teat condition can often give me lots of important information about the milking practices at that farm and help me diagnose the problem.  Teat condition or teat lesions, either induced or spread by milking machines, are common and are signs of incorrect milking practices or milking machine function. Lesions can also be infectious.

“The wider consequences of these teat lesions are obviously mastitis and the pain and discomfort associated with that, but also increased antibiotic use, cost, loss of milk, higher cull rates and lower staff motivation, due to additional work related to managing sick cows. We must never lose sight of this wide-ranging impact of the conditions caused by poor parlour function and maintenance.

Bill goes on to say, “The good news is that a lot can easily be done to correct these issues. So, lets focus on prevention instead of treatment – what you can do to improve teat condition and mastitis incidence on your farm.

“I think the biggest factor to consider is staff – are they trained, motivated and capable? Do they provide a calm milking environment? Staff are a huge asset if working effectively. In terms of parlour function, they are the people who are familiar with the workings and noises so can spot any changes quickly.

“Depending on your parlour design and milking time practices, over milking can be a common practice and can significantly damage teats. This commonly occurs at the start of the milking rather than at the end due to a lack of adequate teat preparation.  Aim for 60-90 second prep-lag time for optimal milk let down.

“As briefly referred to earlier, ensure comprehensive testing of the milking machine. A dynamic test will give you data necessary to ensure your parlour is functioning correctly when in use – which usually isn’t identified in a static test. This is incredibly valuable information for any herd manager to consider if changes need to be made and where. Carrying out appropriate daily/weekly parlour maintenance should be standard procedure.

“Something that we need to do more as an industry is benchmarking.  How are we performing? Can we improve? What is achievable?  – Comparing ‘like with like’ can be a challenge but we need to have some better way in which to analyse performance in the parlour, both human and machine.

“The industry needs to have a unified approach to milking, away from the focus of how long it takes and more towards the target of improved (or even zero) mastitis and maximum cow welfare and making some simple changes can go along way towards achieving this,” he concludes.