6 simple steps to improving your milking routine

The best way to prevent clinical or sub-clinical mastitis cases – in your herd – is through a consistent and good-quality milking routine.

This is important as according to Teagasc, on average, a mastitis case costs the farmer €60/cow/year.

However, this is just an average and where there is a herd somatic cell count (SCC) issue the costs incurred can be much greater – when you take into account the losses in milk production, the discarded milk, labour, treatment costs along with increased culling.

For some, improvements in the milking routine will not be enough to correct SCC issues in the herd.

In such instances, milk recording may need to be carried out to identify the major culprits and a suitable plan put in place to deal with these.

1. Wear The Correct Clothing

This may seem like a very obvious routinely action. However, it can sometimes be forgotten about as the season progresses.

In addition, disposable nitrile gloves should be worn. This can be a difficult habit for some farmers to get into; but, wearing gloves significantly decreases the spread of mastitis and they are much easier to clean during milking.

2. Present A Clean Cow For Milking

Dirty udders should be washed and dried thoroughly using a paper towel, before attaching the cluster.

If greater than 5% of the herd is coming in with dirty udders, there is a problem with management before milking. To avoid this, ensure roadways, yards and cubicles are kept to a high standard of cleanliness.

The same goes for the parlour; it should also be kept to a high standard of cleanliness.

3. Teat Dip

Teat dipping a cow – as soon as possible – after she is milked is one of the most important steps in the milking process.

Although teat dipping can be a pointless exercise if not carried out correctly – the whole surface of the teat must be covered with teat dip for it to be fully effective.

A simple test to see if your teat dipping technique is up to scratch is through the use of a piece of paper towel.

Place the paper towel around the teat after teat spraying the animal. A solid pattern should be observed where it was touching the teat. If not, the teat is not being fully covered in the teat spray.

4. Be On The Lookout For Signs Of Mastitis

Clinical cases of mastitis are clear. However, sub-clinical cases are not. The sooner an animal with mastitis is found and treated the faster the cure rate.

Signs of clinical and sub-clinical mastitis:
  • Clots in the milk;
  • Swollen/inflamed udder;
  • Tendor or hard udder;
  • Watery milk;
  • Abnormal milk colour;
  • Not letting down milk;
  • Generally unwell.

If the milk filter contains clots or if there has been a sudden rise above normal somatic cell count (SCC), this is another indication of a mastitis case.

5. Have A Treatment Protocol In Place

It is important to have a treatment protocol in place for when a mastitis case is found. This should then be communicated to any staff on the farm.

The cows’ tag number; reason for treatment; quarter treated; treatment product used; and date treated should all be recorded; either on a whiteboard or somewhere clearly noticeable for the farmer or an employee milking to see.

Treated cows should be clearly marked either with leg bands and/or with spray paint – preferably on their udder or legs, where it is clearly visual to the person milking.

If possible, identified high SCC cows should be milked last in the herd. If this is not possible, disinfect the cluster before attaching it to the next cow.

6. Milk In A Stress-Free Environment

Finally, if cows become stressed during the milking process this can trigger mastitis. Cows should be handled calmly and shouting should be avoided.