Milking Management - Part 2

Tuesday, 24th November 2009
As milking equipment people, we know there's a lot to be considered in supplying a customer the package he or she requires and it often involves a lot more than just the milker. Then there are all the expectations, where they want it cheap, yet work and look a million dollars. They want it quiet, easy to operate, and last forever without maintenance. Some want gadgets, some want none, for some it even has to be the right colour. This is precisely why we get our back up, when a Vet or Farmer dare criticise our machine by highlighting a mastitis or cell count problem. When there's a problem, all attention is focused on one aspect of the machine, how it milks, we naturally get defensive because of all the effort we put into the different elements of the project.

This said, as I mentioned in the previous article Mastitis and Cell count are on the rise in NZ. A re-focus is required by us and everyone else involved, on the basic requirements needed to achieve and maintain a low cell count. After many years in this industry I still find most of the problems are beyond our control. No matter how good a machine is, poor cow management can undo it all. Having said that, we have to do our part in assuring the other disciplines involved, that we have things in order. We must not lose sight of the fact that the primary function of the machine is to milk cows efficiently, everything else, while of utmost importance, is actually secondary. I'm concerned we are getting carried away with technology and loosing sight of the basics. This over confidence spills over to the user, who has begun to think the modern milking machine works miracles, in fact little has changed in the way we apply vacuum to the teat end for decades.

There are a lot of different theories about how milking equipment effects mastitis, many of them complete rubbish. My advice is not to over think it, remember there are people out there maintaining low cell counts and very few clinicals with simple equipment and simple management practices. We already know enough to mitigate this disease, it's just a matter of implementing good practice.

With simplicity in mind let's break down mastitis to its basic components:

What is Mastitis?
It's an inflammation in the udder caused by a bacterial infection. The important point being, it's caused by bacteria, not shocks, not vacuum, not loud noises, not pins and needle effects in the liner, it's caused by bacteria. The cows general health will also affect her susceptibility to this disease.

How does this bacteria get into the udder? It enters through the teat end.

Understanding these two simple facts, we have identified in order to have a mastitis problem, bacteria have invaded the udder and it got there through the teat end.

Why does it get in?
Teat condition: Nice soft teats with no cracks and good teat ends are the cows natural defense against bacteria and the forces of machine milking. The cracks etc. act as a sight for bacteria to survive and damaged teat ends are of course an open invitation for bacteria to enter. There is no excuse for poor teat condition. 5% emollient is a must in most teat sprays especially with iodine, and a four to one concentration is best, particularly at the beginning of the season. Generally the milking machine is not responsible for damage on sides of teats if the skin is soft and supple. If the sides are dry and cracked any teat end damage is probably as a result of this poor condition. If however teat condition is good, but there is a lot of teat end damage it's almost certainly caused by the milking machine.

A high cell count is a good indication there's a lot of bacteria present in the milk. The cow may also have a lot of bacteria on her teats and udder from the environment, this is deposited on every cluster, which in turn transfers the bacteria onto every cow.

This is known as providing the cow with a high bacterial challenge. This is why it's vital to find an infection early and milk cows known to be infected last. You can also see why teat spray is vital where there are a lot of bacteria present. You will often get comments, I'm not teat spraying, my neighbour never sprays and he has no problems. On investigation you'll find something special about this neighbour, where he's in a position of having small numbers of bacteria present for some reason, therefore he gets away without spraying. In my experience this is short lived and sooner or later the bacteria will build up and escalate into a problem. It's very difficult to control a large bacterial problem during lactation, blanket dry cow is essential in reducing existing infections and protecting uninfected cows from infection, starting the season at a low level. If all this management is being implemented, yet there are still ongoing problems with rising cell count and clinicals then something like cup slip, poor milkout or some other machine fault could be the cause.

I hope this gives a brief understanding of the relationship between Mastitis, Management and the Milking Machine. I want to make the distinction clear, bacteria is what causes mastitis, the milking process is not responsible for creating bacteria, in order for the milking process to contribute toward a mastitis problem it has to provide a mechanism whereby bacteria enters the end of the teat.

In the next article, I will elaborate on the Milking Machines involvement. Give me a call if there's anything you wish to discuss.