The milking machine is a dairy farmer’s combine harvester, but is often neglected in the list of management priorities. A recent course, aimed at vets, has highlighted the importance of examining both the milking routine and the milking machine for areas which could cause increased mastitis incidence.

Spending time observing what is going on in the milking regime is crucial in identifying key areas that can be improved, reckons Peter Edmondson of Shepton Vet Group.

“Milking machine function and, in particular, inconsistent vacuum levels are often related to teat end erosion and hyperkeratosis, which in turn creates an environment for the concentration and colonisations in damaged tissue of mastitis pathogens.”

As liners are one of the key vectors in mastitis due to the nature of contact with the teat, cluster management and liner replacement should be carefully considered.

“Worn liners spread infection and slow down milking,” he adds. The benefits of changing liners more regularly more than offset the cost of the liner. “A lower overall cell count, leading to reduced financial penalties, less clinical mastitis and less liner slip are all reasons to change liners more often. In addition, milking times can be reduced.”

When vacuum fluctuates, there is increased chance of spreading infection. “When vacuum levels are corrected, clinical mastitis cases are reduced significantly. Operators may not be able to hear liner slip, so a full ACR check by service engineers is recommended. Fiddling with settings without expertise can do more harm than good, so leave adjustments to the experts,” adds Mr Edmondson.

Getting ACR levels right not only corrects vacuum problems and reduces stress on the udder, but it can also speed up milking considerably. However, it is not advised that all milk is removed from the quarter, as this increases the chance of over milking, hence raising the chance of teat orifice erosion.

“Stray voltage, or small amounts of electrical current running through the system, is often a scapegoat for vacuum problems. True voltage problems are often accompanied by behavioural changes, impaired milk let down and decreased speed of milking.”

And new parlours are not exempt from problems. In fact, in some cases, the process after installation will need considerable monitoring before the system is running accurately.

emily.padfield@rbi.co.uk