The milking parlor – its cleanliness, maintenance and operation – is a significant component in udder health, says Dr. Earl Aalseth, DVM, of Lake Stevens, Washington.

“You can do a lot of damage in the parlor,” Aalseth observes. For example, one of his dairy clients was experiencing ongoing management problems in its milking parlor and saw its somatic cell count (SCC) rise from 250,000 to 350,000 in over a year. Its pregnancy rate of 15 percent had dropped to 10 to 12 percent.

When the dairy improved its parlor conditions, pregnancy rate rose to 19 percent and SCC fell to the 150,000 range.

Aalseth’s goal for his clients is to have less than 1 percent of the herd with mastitis per month, less than 3 percent for fresh cows and no more than 0.5 percent in the hospital.

“Udder health is definitely challenged more as a cow ages,” he adds. “But even heifers, if not managed properly, can develop mastitis before they calve that will affect them the rest of their life.”


“Most herds have periods during the year when SCC is lower; why can’t we manage to that level the rest of the year? We just need to adjust management as the udder health challenges change. What can we do to prevent a cow from getting sick? What can we do to reduce the number of ‘Typhoid Marys’ with high bacterial loads from infecting the rest of the herd?”

Follow these steps to better udder health:

• Keep parlors up to date and well-maintained. Follow National Mastitis Council (NMC) guidelines and perform at least twice-annual complete system NMC-defined evaluation protocols; perform monthly dynamic testing for pulsator function, claw, milk line and receiver vacuums. As parlors age, they wear out and the decrease in efficiency needs to be detected.

• Avoid overcrowded, dirty conditions – reduce environmental bacteria; maintain freestalls; use low-level bacteria bedding, such as sand; and flush or scrape manure from lanes while cows are being milked.

• Backflushing the claw and inflations can be an excellent tool to control contagious pathogens spread among cows. Today’s automatic systems can be quite reliable.

• Clean and sanitize udders before milking.

• Maintain good teat-end condition, use post-dips with conditioners, proper claw vacuum, teat-friendly liners and mitigate environmental teat condition challenges.

• Milk with consistency providing good stimulation and enough lag time before the milker is attached to create effective milk letdown/flow – cows do not respond well to inconsistent milking routines and procedures. Milker technique can optimize milk flow/harvest and limit time on machine.

• Feed cows immediately after milking to encourage them to stand for one to two hours after milking, allowing teat ends to close before being exposed to bedding.

• Examine milking techniques to assure maximum udder care and protection – how teats are handled, cleaned, stimulated ... avoid over-milking and hyperkeratosis.

• Monitor SCC weekly, if not daily, to catch upswings.

• Test to identify pathogens with on-farm culture plates.

• Perform bi-weekly bulk tank cultures, for not only milk quality but mastitis pathogens.

• Keep good records and analyze data over time to determine trends. Use software that can provide a perspective on subclinical udder health issues and track udder health throughout lactation. In particular, the software should show udder health changes during the dry period. PD

Dr. Ken Zanzalari is a dairy technical manager with Prince Agri Products headquartered in Quincy, Illinois. Earl Aalseth Veterinarian Dairy Consulting