As I was standing in the headlocks of the hospital barn, holding an IV bottle in my hand while it was draining, I remember staring at the treatment cart with four more IVs to give.
I looked at the list of 25 mastitis treatments I had to go through yet, and I knew in that moment I could not continue to spend more time giving treatments trying to fix mastitis cows for the rest of my career working in the dairy. But the bigger question I had was: What could I do about it?
Many times, when I get called on a dairy to help out, I get the same sense of frustration from the dairy managers and the dairy staff, overwhelmed with mastitis treatments and unable to stop the amount of clinical cases on a daily basis.
When faced with mastitis challenges, here are six common places to start looking to find some answers:
1. Preventive maintenance
I have met dairy farmers who don’t have a scheduled preventive maintenance program on a yearly basis for their milking equipment. In order to keep costs down, meet with your equipment dealer and come up with a preventive maintenance schedule to test your milking equipment and change rubber parts according to your parlor needs.
Budgeting for maintenance is better than paying urgent repairs or having clinical cases of mastitis. Remember that milking equipment has a direct impact in teat health and milk production.
2. Equipment cleanliness
Water usage in the parlor can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how we use it. Bacteria moves in water. When milking technicians use water to make things wet, water is considered a bad thing because we are not really removing debris or organic matter from the equipment. When we use water to clean equipment, water is a good thing.
Inflation plugs need to be soaked in a disinfectant solution during milking. It is common to find them on the floor or in non-usable conditions. Dip cups also need to be cleaned during and at the end of milking. The type of bedding used in the farm will determine the frequency of cleaning.
3. Stall management
Clean cows don’t happen by accident. The University of Wisconsin has an excellent guide to standardize the criteria of cow cleanliness in a dairy farm and to determine if bedding practices, alleyways and holding pen cleanliness and frequency need to improve or are on target. The cleaner the cows, the less risk for them to contract mastitis.
4. Prepping procedures
The principle to milking cows is to “milk a clean, dry and well-stimulated teat while maintaining cow throughput.” This principle is one of the most difficult things to implement, especially when we have multiple people milking in the parlor.
Prepping procedures are designed around different factors; every dairy parlor is different, and every situation is different. Some of the most important factors that determine a milking procedure or milking routine are:
- Number of operators
- Parlor size
- Type of bedding
- Size of the herd
- Number of milkings per day, etc.
A good milking routine should consider at least 10 to 12 seconds contact time in order for cows to have a good milk letdown, and this can be achieved by stripping and wiping.
5. Milking procedures
Milking procedures need to be trained and monitored, and employees need to have feedback on the things they are doing right and the things they need to improve. It is understood that a language barrier can be an obstacle.
However, now there are many resources available in the dairy industry that can help bridge this gap. Just remember that employees’ perception is not always what we think it is, what we asked them to do.
If employees are not following procedures in the parlor, we need to ask ourselves if we have communicated the right message and if the message was transferred correctly. Has the prepping routine been set correctly for employees to finish on time? Do we need to help our employees utilize time efficiently to be able to do what we are asking them to do?
It is always good to have positive team meetings to communicate policy, train or retrain milking routine or procedures. It’s also important to create employee engagement.
6. Unit placement
You can walk in a parlor at any given time, and it will be easy to find many cows with incorrect unit placement. Unit placement is one of the first things to check when we have a number of cows with incomplete milkouts.
There isn’t a one-hose holder system that will fit all cows in a parlor, and some producers have gone to the extent of using two different systems to hold hoses in order to fit the great majority of their cows. Anything you can do to correct this problem is worth it.
Be sure to look into all of these areas that affect milk quality, and if the problem still persists, remember to not be afraid to call an expert for help.
PHOTO 1: Clean cows don’t happen by accident.
PHOTO 2: Unit placement is always a challenge. Courtesy photos.
Mario Solis Flores
- Director of On-Farm Solutions
- Email Mario Solis Flores