Automatic teat sprayers have been around for more than 20 years, yet still attract criticism for inadequate teat coverage, using too much dip and being easily clogged by slurry.

Yet they could be the answer for today’s large herds and high-throughput parlours.

Where labour is tight, they offer consistent teat dipping.

And it’s better to spray automatically than not at all, says Dairymaster’s Alistair McIvor.

“Let’s face it, in large herds a human will not spray every cow properly every time.

An automatic system – when it works – will at least do the job consistently.”

Dairymaster has been selling its exit race sprayer for 4-5 years, mostly into rotary parlours and larger herringbones which use auto-drafting.

The aim on these farms is to save labour, says Mr McIvor.

He points out that, as with footbathing, cows need training to go through a spray race.

Familiarity helps reduce panic and the associated dunging, jumping or bunching up.

“Also the infra-red eyes are recessed.

When blocked, the cow can’t get into the race and it alerts the operator.

The sprays are also set to blow any muck off the nozzle after a selected number of cows.”

But finding exit race spraying unreliable, Fullwood developed a robotic sprayer arm for use on the milking platform.

This has a flexible end section, which can withstand knocks from cows, and moves with a scythe-like action in front of cows’ back legs to position the sprayer underneath the udder, says Fullwood’s John Baines.

Launched two years ago, it has sold to herds milking 200-plus cows through herringbone-aligned rotaries where, again, owners are looking to save labour.

“The aim is still to give blanket coverage of four teats, using a balance between nozzle design and spray pattern.

It means more dip must be used to achieve a good result, but you can be sure adequate coverage of most teats occurs all the time,” he says.

However, vet and mastitis specialist Peter Edmondson of Shepton Vet Group, Somerset, remains unconvinced.

He believes automatic sprayers don’t do the job as well as manual spraying or dipping.

“They use 300% more solution, yet don’t cover all of the teat.”

Producers wanting to save time would be better off changing parlour routine to improve milking efficiency, he says.

“When you don’t have an efficient routine you can’t take advantage of cows’ natural let-down reflexes.

“So it means doing only the necessary things and stopping those that don’t pay dividends, such as cluster dipping after every cow.

Ensuring ACRs are correctly set can also knock 30-60 seconds/cow off milking.”

ACRs removed a manual chore from milking, so has one of the latest developments on the market – the ADF automatic dipping and liner flushing system, says James Duke of Research Development and Innovations.

He claims the ADF dips teats within 30 seconds of the end of milking, then flushes liners to remove dip residues.

“The teat canal at the end of milking is like a motorway for bacteria going straight into the udder.

By the time cows exit the parlour, time is lost.”

Mr Duke believes producers benefit from lower cell counts by getting dip onto teats sooner and argues that, in larger herds, not every cow is being dipped due to pressure on work routines.

“Herd owners get peace of mind because teats are always dipped consistently, regardless of who milks.”