Could these simple steps help shave time off your milking routine?

Labour studies by Teagasc have shown that milking represents up to one-third of a dairy farmer’s daily workload. 

Pointing the way to practices that can make this daily task more efficient, as well as more pleasant for the milker and for the cow, Padraig O’Connor, Teagasc milking specialist, joined James Dunne on a recent Let’s Talk Dairy webinar and Dairy Edge podcast.

Efficiency does not mean “cutting corners”, said Padraig, and producing high-quality milk is key.

In the last couple of years, Padraig has observed a sea change among many younger dairy farmers, starting their evening milking earlier and hence, finishing farm work earlier, for instance, commencing the first milking at 7am and the second at 3pm or 3:30pm.

Studies at Moorepark and elsewhere indicate that a shorter milking interval does not impact the kilos of milk solids produced per cow.

Improving milking efficiency starts with ensuring good cow flow, enabling the cow to move easily, without obstacles. “What we mean by cow flow is the cows flowing from the paddock, through the roadway into the collecting yard, and through the parlour itself,” Padraig said.

“If you can get cow flow correct, that will make milking much, much easier. We are expecting a 500-600kg animal to get from the paddock, through the roadway, into the milking parlour, through the parlour, and back out again”.

Factors such as roadway width, surface and camber are all important.

Padraig noted that five-metre-wide roadways are required for 100-cow herds.

After that, the roadway width must increase by one metre for every additional 100 cows.

If one notices a tendency for cows to mainly use the centre of the roadway, that could indicate a problem with the surface or the camber. The fence should be set back about a half-metre, so that the cows can make use of the full width of the road.

Bends in the roadway should be kept to a minimum, and sharp right-angled bends avoided. “If you have time,” he said, “Look at the cows coming from the paddock into the parlour and see if there are any points where the cows stop. 

“See if there are any pinch points, because if the cows stop, there is an issue with that part of the roadway, and it just needs to be addressed.”

One issue that is often observed is an insufficient entrance width to the collecting yard, creating a pinch point. Padraig advised that this should be the same width as the roadway. If cows are squeezed into a collecting yard, this may lead to higher stress levels, and somatic cell count issues.

Offering advice on the space required in a collecting yard, he said that, on average, 1.5 square metres per cow is necessary. Larger cows may require a little more.

“Try to look at it from a cow’s point of view“, Padraig advised, saying it was important to provide plenty of space and straight lines as much as possible. “Collecting yard size is really, really important”.

If cows’ heads are up as they move along the roadway or into the collecting yard, that’s a sign that they are being rushed or are being squeezed too tightly. This can contribute to lameness and/or increased stress.

On parlour access, Padraig said the entrance should be “open, bright and airy”. Cows don’t want to enter a dark parlour. Sufficient space, he said, is also required outside the parlour exit for one full row of cows. This is necessary to avoid restricting the next row of cows coming into the parlour. 

“Sufficient room at the front of the parlour, and where they are going out of the shed, is really important”, Padraig said.

When milking, Padraig always starts from the front of the parlour and works his way back through the row of cows. “Let’s say you are milking in a 16-unit parlour, you’ve started from the front of the parlour, and you are teat spraying as you go back along as well.

“So when you are in the back of a parlour, you can actually open the exit gate, transferring the last two or three units, so the cows that are finished milking can actually filter out themselves”. 

When cows filter out themselves, they are less stressed. “By that little tweak alone, you could save two minutes per row. If you have eight rows, that’s 15 or 16 minutes by making just a small change”.

“It’s a given for me that the milker has a clean parlour apron or parlour suit”, Padraig said, and that it’s kept clean during milking. 

“Properly fitting nitrile disposable gloves should be worn, as they are more easily disinfected than hands, if contaminated while milking. The gloved hand must be washed and sprayed with disinfectant if moving on from a cow with mastitis.

“Clusters have to go on to clean dry teats”.

“Keep water to a minimum”, Padraig advised.

Drawing foremilk before putting on the cluster is particularly important in the spring when infections are higher. Using both hands to hold the cluster will prevent undue pressure on the milker’s primary hand.

“The average cluster at the moment is about 3kg. If you’re milking 100 cows, you’re lifting 300kg per milking. So if you’re milking twice a day, that’s 600kg, that’s over half a tonne”.

Chronic high somatic cell count cows should be culled, Padraig said. Through infecting other cows, considerable revenue can be lost. While in the herd, cows with mastitis should be milked last if feasible and if not, the cluster should be dipped in a peracetic acid solution before moving on to another cow.

Applying an adequate quantity of post-milking teat disinfectant is best practice to prevent disease spread. Padraig advised using a readymade disinfectant, the quality will be consistent, and it’s less onerous on the farmer.

A Level 6 Best Practice in Milking course has been developed by Teagasc, with Animal Health Ireland, in conjunction with the Farm Relief Services Network. 

It aims to develop milkers’ skills to ensure that all cows are milked effectively and efficiently. There is a Co Cork course in mid-June.

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