Monday, 27 February 2017 09:44

Cows, machines and people – managing the risk of mastitis

Written by  Rod Dyson

Russell and Stuart both manage family farms milking about 450 cows in a rotary dairy without automatic cup removers.

In the couple of months leading up to and just after Christmas, both farms had seen a rise in Bulk Milk Cell Count (BMCC) and both had experienced an increased number of clinical cases of mastitis.

Interestingly, both Russell and Stuart had a suspicion that something about their milking process was influencing their risk of mastitis.

Although they each had some specific suspicions, they weren’t quite sure if those suspicions were correct, or what else might be wrong, and coincidentally (because they don’t know each other), they both decided to get a complete assessment of their milking process.

What was interesting was that some key findings at each farm were very similar, in fact almost identical in terms of teat condition.

Both farms had a high level of “rough” teat ends, and also a high number of teats with “open” orifices after cup removal.

Each had a significant number of teats that were firm and had “ringing” at the base of the teat (where the teat meets the udder) immediately after cups had been removed.

The firm teats with a ring at the base formed by the mouthpiece of the liner caused a similar problem for both farms – cups did not drop quickly after the vacuum was broken at cups off, and at both farms, cups were being “encouraged” to come off!

At Stuart’s farm, that encouragement was in the form of a little extra pull on the cluster, whilst at Russell’s farm, the button on the claw was being pulled as the cluster was being removed from the cow.

In both cases, a distinct “pop” or “whoosh” noise was heard from about half of the clusters as air rushed into the cluster whilst it was being removed. This rush of air into the cluster can cause “impacts”, which create a high risk for cross-contamination of quarters and liners.

Each also had a level of over-milking occurring with many cows having ceased milk flow by about two thirds of a platform rotation, whilst the cups off operator remained anchored close to the bridge.

Further testing and assessment showed that the changes to teats (firmness, ringing at the teat base, open orifices, rough teat ends) had subtly different causes at each farm, but with liners having a key role in both.

At Russell’s farm, liner changes had always been every 6 months, but an increase in herd size without changing the liner change interval, meant that the current liners were now considerably overdue. Milking time testing also showed that the claw vacuum was just a little too high.

Combine these mechanical factors with a significant number of cows not letting milk down prior to cups on, resulting in cup crawl immediately after cups had gone on, and you have a recipe for the changes that were seen. Add over-milking into that mix, which just makes all these factors worse, and it is easy to understand how the risk of mastitis had increased for Russell.

However, the situation for Stuart was a bit different.

His liners were only a month old, and there were few other factors implicated in the changes seen – clearly, a change to a different liner that better suits his cows’ teats will be necessary!

However, liners are only part of the story for Russell and Stuart, as both will need to work with their milking staff to make changes to the milking routine, and managing the milking process is only one part of managing mastitis on their farms.

The similarities and differences in these two farms reinforce some important principles:

* It is rare for milk quality and mastitis issues to be caused by just one thing – there are usually multiple factors combining to have an effect.

* If you see, hear or do the same thing commonly at each milking it quickly becomes “normal” to your mind – often an outside set of eyes is needed to expose the problem.

* Changes to teats are usually not noticed during milking – it requires specific assessment, preferably by an experienced adviser, to define changes and problems. Both Russell and Stuart had described teat condition as “excellent” before any assessment was done!

* The milking process requires cows, people and machines to work together. Not only can the way they interact create or exacerbate problems, they will actually need to interact well to both solve and prevent problems.

Countdown has trained a wide range of advisers to help assess these factors on farm – don’t hesitate to access that support to help better define your situation.

Rod Dyson is a veterinary surgeon and mastitis advisor at

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