Useful tips to increase your milk yield
Cows like to have a daily schedule, and it helps to reduce stress, which can have a negative effect on milking.
One of the biggest enemy of a dairy herd is mastitis, which is the inflammation of the cow’s udder. It is the most prevalent and costly disease, as it causes direct economic losses through decreased milk yield, increased veterinary and medicine costs, while abnormal milk, or milk contaminated with antibiotics cannot be sold. In some cases even the affected cow has to be culled, if mastitis becomes a chronic disease at an animal.
Needless to say, that just like with most diseases, the best thing to do is to prevent and early detect the disease. The most common symptoms of mastitis are udder swelling and redness, which can be easily observed during milking. On the other hand, there are cases, when the infection is invisible to the naked eye. These cases, the so called subclinical mastitis infections cause the same problems on the farm. A great method, to identify these cases is to use the California Mastitis Test (CMT), which can be performed during forestripping. It is quite easy to perform this test on a regular basis, furthermore you only need a four-compartment paddle and a special reagent, while the results are immediate and fairly reliable.
Prevention of the disease is also quite important. But what can cause mastitis? Besides a few cases, mastitis is caused by microbes that entered the teat canal. To avoid it, you must reduce the environmental pathogens in the barn with fresh, clean and manure-free bedding, while prevention also requires to avoid milking practices, which support the spread of contagious microbes.
Always try to milk your cows at the same two times of the day. Cows like to have a daily schedule, and it helps to reduce stress, which can have a negative effect on milking. Always try to act calm around cows, and try to reduce the number of new impulses, like dogs or new people during milking. If possible, you can listen to radio, which is not only a helps you to work, but also reduces the cows’ stress caused by loud and sudden noises, like the bark of a dog, or the sound of your neighbor’s loud tractor.
To reduce the spread of mastitis, create a milking order. Always milk the healthy cows at first, and milk those cows second, which has questionable health status (like newly bought cows, post treatment cows). Those cows, which have chronic mastitis should be milked only after these animals. In case you have a sick cow, which is having health effects caused by a contagious pathogen, always milk her last.
Start milking with a clean and disinfected hand. If possible, try to use rubber gloves and try to disinfect your hands often during milking. Once your hands are clean, it is mandatory to remove all dirt and manure from the cow’s udder and to sanitize the teats before milking. This is called the pre milking teat preparation. Using only water to clean the teats is not enough, as water drops run down, therefore the dirty and contaminated water will be exactly at the teat openings. Always use sanitizing chemicals and separate paper towels for each cows and completely dry the teats with them! After you disinfect the teats, do forestripping on all teat quarters. This practice means milking a couple strip on a dark plastic surface. This is a good way to detect the early signs of mastitis, while bacteria can be milked out from the teat canal. Look for clots and strings in the milk, which can be an indicator of mastitis.
Pre-milking teat preparation and foremilking has a double effect. It stimulates the udder, which results in better milk release. Not only you can reduce the occurrence of mastitis, but your cows will perform better!
Using post milking teat disinfection, or so called post-dip is a common practice in the dairy sector. These chemicals not only disinfect the teats after milking, but also they create a layer on the surface of the teat, which acts as a barrier and prevents pathogens to infect the udder. Of course, these disinfectants cost money. But always keep in mind that these disinfectants are cheaper, than the economic loss caused by the reduced milk quantities or than the cost of veterinary services or medicines.
During milking, the teat canal widens. It takes some time after milking, while it goes back to its original width. This open period is a great opportunity for microbes to infect the udder. It can be useful, to feed animals after milking, as cows are standing, while they are eating, therefore harmful pathogens in the bedding can be kept away from the udder while the teat canal is open.
You need to pay particular attention to some factors, in case you use milking machines. Liners and tubes are considered as wear and tear parts, which have to be exchanged on a regular basis to maintain a continuous and trouble free operation. In case these parts are not replaced under the required intervals, or if not compatible detergents are used for cleaning, small tears and cracks appear on the surface of the rubber parts. These cracks are great spots for microorganisms to spread, causing mastitis, while it is just a matter of time when these parts will wore off and break, causing the equipment to underperform. Moreover, the older the liners are, the less tension they have, which can result in slower and not complete milking.
Pulsation ratio is an important factor during milking. It can be promising, to use higher pulsation ratios (75:25 and 70:30) instead of the standard (65:35), as higher ratios can increase peak and average milk flow, and can significantly reduce machine-on time. On the other hand, studies have shown, that such pulsation rates can cause over-milking, resulting in bad teat condition and increased milk somatic cell count (SCC), which is the indicator of mastitis. This will especially occur on the front teats, as they empty faster, than the rear teats. Watch out for red rings around the teats after milking, and keep in mind: good things come to those who wait!
By establishing a good milking routine, you can easily reduce the mastitis cases on your farm. If you pay special attention to the details, you can notice and treat mastitis early, which will be beneficial for your pocket. Understanding the nature of disease causing agents can help you to have better cow health on your farm, which will lead to healthy and nicely performing cows. Therefore, the use of veterinary laboratory to identify these agents can help you also in defining the exact aspects you need to address, for example whether they are related to the milking routine or to the environment (bedding) where the cows are laying down. Hence, whenever possible use the services of your closest veterinary laboratory as well of the veterinarians who use to visit your farm.
Livestock Production Consultant
FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia