Farmers should make regular cleanliness checks on automatic milking systems to reduce mastitis by controlling pathogenic bacteria.
Torben Bennedsgaard says that farmers using automatic milking systems need to improve monitoring and manual cleaning in order to minimise mastitis risk.
This is because there are particular parts of the robot that are a major source of bacterial growth and spread (see “Areas for concern”).
“A cluster is as dirty as it gets after [milking] five cows. That means we have a lot of cows that are milked with a dirty cluster,” said Mr Bennedsgaard, a vet from Denmark where 25% of milk comes from robotic-milked herds.
Manual cleaning of the equipment should take the form of an alkaline soap applied as a foam, left for 10min and then removed with a brush and water.
With one robot milking 50-70 cows two to three times a day, even with two to three daily automatic cleaning cycles of the robots, bacteria will have better chances to spread compared with conventional milking systems, he believes.
However, he says it is possible to get automatic systems to a level comparable with a well-managed herd in a milking parlour if the whole team is vigilant in checking and monitoring the robots and protocols are followed.
Wendy Ward, who looks after Farm Management Support for Venture Dairy Services, a Lely robotic equipment dealer, says that the advice being given was similar to what they have recently told farmers.
“We sent a letter last week saying, more or less, please clean your robots,” she told Farmers Weekly.
She said that they have been reminding farmer clients of the importance of maintenance and cleaning and that they recommend that farmers check the machines twice a day and clean them thoroughly once a day.
Ms Ward said that the manufacturers are installing more sensors and alarms on the equipment to help farmers manage them.
Areas for concern
Biofilms of bacteria will form in hard to reach areas and then come into contact with the udder, so farmers need to assess areas such as:
- The surrounding of the brushes
- The sides of the washing cup
- The arm that moves the cluster
- The rubber curtain which clusters touch
- Brushes lacking bristles
It is also important to check that teat spray is refilled and disinfectant is working and at the right concentration.
Farmers need to check critical control points of disease to ensure their system is as hygienic as possible:
1. Teat cleaning
- Do all the teats get cleaned?
- Do the brushes wash the teats and also the udder?
- Do the teats get cleaned once or twice? This can be set on the robot and typically takes 10-15sec longer a cow.
- Which parts of the robot touched the udder during cleaning?
- How clean are those parts of the robot?
- Are the teats clean after cleaning?
2. Attachment of the milking cluster
- How long does it take the robot to find the teats?
- Do milking cups always get attached to the right quarters or other parts of the udder or dirt hanging from the udder?
- Do the udders have long hair hiding their teats?
- Is there any microbiological growth in the cups and clusters? Successful disinfection should result in a near sterile swab.
3. Post-milking treatment of the teats
- Is teat spraying performed?
- Does the teat spray hit the teats in sufficient amount?
- Is the teat spray laser guided?
- Are the settings correct for the viscosity of the product? The settings for amount and pressure need to be altered when the product is changed.
4. Automatic cleaning between cows
- Do the brushes and their surroundings get disinfected between cows? Double or triple nozzles for spraying disinfectant can be installed and do a much better job.
- Changing the brushes daily and disinfecting those removed for 24 hours can help.
- Is the washing cup cleaned and disinfected?
- Do milking cups get flushed and or disinfected?
- It is important to keep a full supply of disinfectant so that it is immediately replenished when it runs out.
- Is the disinfectant at the right concentration? The colour chart on the robot will fade over time, so a separate reference for checking concentration should be used.
5. Managing contagious mastitis
- Are infected cows segregated to reduce the chance of contagious pathogens spreading?
- Even if it compromises milking efficiency, setting one robot aside for infected or culling cows can help get the contagious mastitis under control in the rest of the herd.