Dec. 15 2017 07:00 AM

Understanding your equipment sets the table.

Cornell University’s Paul Virkler, D.V.M., presented the December webinar, “Troubleshooting mastitis and milk quality programs.” While we often focus on the people and cows involved in milk production, step back and look at equipment, too. Proper system settings and regular maintenance are important to udder health.

The people

Producing milk typically involves more than one person. It is important to have well-established protocols that all team members follow. This includes stimulation steps, unit on-time dynamics, machine alignment, and other factors. Virkler warned about protocol drift and that it is important to check regularly that proper procedures are being followed.

Often a breakdown in communications compounds an equipment malfunction. What happens when a milker reports a unit not functioning properly or some other problem? How is that communicated – in written form or verbal form – and to whom – the parlor manager or the owner? Then, who is going to take action?

Sometimes, when high somatic cell counts develop or more cows show up with teat condition issues, it is because known problems were not reported properly or no corrective action took place. Regular meetings can facilitate communication between workers and owners or managers and prevent small incidences from becoming bigger problems.

The machinery

Milking equipment needs to be checked regularly, not just when a problem has occurred. Often routine maintenance and continual observation can head off larger problems. A third-party audit or analysis helps farms stay on course. Big problems rarely are one-fix items, but usually a culmination of several things that need to be corrected.

Some areas to evaluate include:


  • Claw vacuum
  • Pulsation under load
  • Milking system vacuum over time


  • Unit alignment scoring
  • Milking routine timing (prep lag time)
  • Milk flow rate analysis
  • Strip yields


  • Teat scoring
  • Teat end cleanliness
  • Udder cleanliness

While these may seem very basic, everything deserves a look. Something as simple as a delayed automatic takeoff retraction can result in units falling off of cows and being contaminated. Those few seconds in contact with manure is a concern. Poor unit alignment can cause slow milking of one quarter, which results in over milking of the other three quarters.

Larger, more-automated parlors have the benefit of detailed reports for the milking system. It is easy to spot a unit that is not performing correctly. Smaller milking facilities may not have that luxury, making troubleshooting more of an investigative project for a well-trained person.

To learn more about the specifics Dr. Virkler shared, watch the archived webinar. The presentation was sponsored by Acumen Detection.

Patti Hurtgen

The author is the online media manager and is responsible for the website, webinars, and social media. A graduate of Modesto Junior College and Fresno State, she was raised on a California dairy and frequently blogs on youth programs and consumer issues.

Join us next month:

The webinar “How they achieve 40,000 pounds of milk per cow” will be held on Monday, January 8, at noon (Central time).

National Dairy Shrine’s 2017 Distinguished Cattle Breeder Tom Kestell, and his nutritionist of 25 years, Steve Woodford, will discuss optimal cow care and consistent nutrition. Their approach also includes an investment in the best dairy cattle and forage genetics available. The webinar will be sponsored by Quality Liquid Feeds (QLF).

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