From our experience working with dairies and in our work developing milking products, we’ve seen that choosing a liner as a business decision ultimately comes down to two main things: cost per milking and health of the herd. All the other factors, such as durability, initial cost, longevity, milk flow rate and so on, all fall under those two factors.
For many operations, it often comes down to a material choice – rubber or silicone. Or sometimes a variant of the two, such as a synthetic rubber blend or engineered silicone. Generally, the thinking has been: Rubber is more durable, and silicone is better for teat-end health. Strength of rubber versus the gentler silicone.
But there’s more to that way of thought, which we will unpack here.
Cost per milking
Early on, silicone liners were – as anecdotal reports suggest – “slow milkers.” But over the last 20 years, silicone has made strides that make it a more common solution. Advancements in barrel shapes and the onset of new material that enhances milk flow are big reasons why. Milk flow rate is now faster than ever with silicone.
In choosing a liner, upfront cost is often a key decision factor. Why pay more out of your pocket right from the start? But like anything with a business, it’s worth looking at that cost as an investment and gauge what sort of return on investment (ROI) you can achieve. As we know, the upfront cost is just one part of that.
The upfront cost of silicone is higher than rubber. You may pay between $9 and $12 for a silicone liner compared to $5 to $6 for one made from rubber. But that initial cost difference is offset by the number of milkings one gets per liner. Quality silicone products can go 4,000 to 7,000 milkings, compared to 1,200 to 2,500 for rubber. That’s why I tend to look at the overall cost as cost per milking. What do you get out of it compared to what you put into it? And we cannot ignore the indirect costs of extra labor, waste and shipping charges.
Durability and longevity
The layout and construction of milking parlors is complicated to say the least. Plus, there are sharp corners, active cows and moving parts. Liners can bump against these obstacles and/or get stepped on. In those cases, the rubber liner stands up better.
But there’s more to it. Silicone is much more resistant to the inevitable degradation from butterfat, wash chemicals, ozone and continued flexing. Therefore, silicone keeps an original quality to it with less falloff in material composition, maintaining a smooth surface finish throughout the life of the liner. The result is a liner that lasts two to three times as long as rubber.
When I think of material strength, it’s worth separating out “durability” and “longevity.” They’re not interchangeable in this case, even though common sense would dictate the more durable product would last longer too. Oddly enough, with milking liners, that claim doesn’t hold up. Rubber is more durable, but silicone will last longer.
When thinking in those terms, determine what outside factors that affect or damage your liners are inevitable and what you can avoid. This will help in making your liner decision. Often, minor investments in maintenance or simple procedural changes can neutralize factors that damage liners, thereby reducing the importance of durability.
Before, one would choose silicone for cow comfort but would sacrifice on milking speed. Having healthier teat ends came with a price. Not anymore. With the advancements in material quality and design, silicone liners are some of the fastest-milking liners available while also ensuring healthier teat ends and cow comfort. In our way of thinking, a healthier, more comfortable cow milks better.
Whether by obligation or mandate, more people pay attention to their carbon footprint these days. Carbon is a big deal, and the trend is to use less of it. Silicone liners have ultra-low carbon content, at .001 pound of carbon per pound of material. Compare that to rubber, which may be 20% carbon in its makeup. Carbon is where rubber gets its strength. Beyond that, as rubber breaks down, it can leave a black inking residue on what it comes in contact with.
Also think of waste. If you are using a product that lasts twice as long, your contribution to the waste stream is greatly reduced.
In the dairy industry, tight margins are the name of the game. Choosing the right product for your operation truly matters and can be a difference-maker in your bottom line. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons and be sure to seek advice from other experts in the field. Gaining multiple perspectives can help in making an objective decision.