May 8 2019 10:30 AM

We don’t wash milking units off while cows are in the parlor.

If a cow literally poops on a milker, we spray it. Otherwise, when cows are in the parlor, we don’t hose anything.

We’ve never been that herd with the consistently low somatic cell count (SCC). Back when quality bonuses were a thing, we rarely hit the highest bonus level even though we tried everything to bring our SCC down.

We asked consultants to look at our records and facilities. We topped stalls with hydrated lime, gypsum, and sanitizing solutions. We bed with sawdust, but unfortunately, that’s not something we can change.

When we built the barn, my dad had the foresight to put in a gravity flow manure system. No pumps, no machines. When other farmers are talking about having to work on their manure pumps in -10°F weather, our pit is still flowing nicely. The catch? We can’t bed with sand. Sand doesn’t flow, and it doesn’t agitate. So, we went back to the drawing board.

We changed teat dips, we changed our prepping procedure, and we started stripping every cow. We spent the extra money to buy semi loads of kiln-dried sawdust and nothing seemed to help.

Someone told us to stop spraying the floors while cows were in the parlor, still no change. We had pretty much given up. Then we decided to really go for it. No water. Like, at all. We wash our hands as needed, and if a cow literally poops directly on a milker, we spray it. But while cows are in the parlor, we don’t hose anything.

For the first few days I was having a mini panic attack. Everything was dirty, and it was driving me crazy. We do spray the milkers clean between each group, because it gives them time to drip-dry.

And honestly, it’s the best! For the most part, I’m actually cleaner because the milkers are dry. If I see a particularly large clump of manure right where I want to put my hand, I use a dirty milking towel to clean it off.

The best part? It took a while for our SCC to drop, but it did. The even better part? We treat a lot less mastitis. We’ve always talked about how water is the perfect carrier for bacteria, but the thought of not washing dirty milkers was something I couldn’t wrap my head around. And now? I’ll never go back.

Jessica Peters

The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.