Milking tips from the NMC

Attitude makes a difference. Proper milking procedures and a positive attitude are required to minimize mastitis and maximize quality production from a milking herd. Milking should be done by responsible and conscientious persons. Good management dictates that the person milking must be constantly alert to conditions that may spread mastitis organisms from cow to cow. Correcting such conditions assists the production of high quality milk from healthier udders.

Provide a Stress Free Environment

A consistent operating routine for bringing cows and milking machines together is essential. Cows that are frightened or excited before milking may not let their milk down in spite of an effective preparation routine. Hormones are released into the bloodstream during periods of stress. These hormones interfere with normal milking procedure and the animal's resistance to disease, including mastitis. A milking environment that routinely causes stress to cows may predispose cows to a greater rate of mastitis infection.

Clip Udders For Cleanliness

Well clipped udders reduce the amount of dirt and manure that can contaminate milk. Udders with long hair are difficult to clean and dry. Milking wet and/or dirty teats increases the risk of high bacteria counts in the milk and increases the rate of new cases of mastitis.

Check Foremilk and Udder For Mastitis

Presence of mastitis can be detected by using the hand to physically examine the udder for swelling, heat, and/or "knots", and by using a strip cup or plate to examine foremilk of each quarter of each cow prior to every milking. Correct use of the strip cup can be a valuable aid in detecting symptoms of mastitis such as clotty, stringy, or watery milk. Milk should never be stripped into the hand. This routine spreads mastitis organisms from teat to teat and cow to cow. Forestripping may aid in preventing new infections by flushing mastitis organisms from inside the teat.

Good Massage Increases Production

When teats and the lower part of the udder are massaged, a signal is sent to the brain which secretes the milk letdown hormone, oxytocin, into the blood stream. The hormone is then carried to the udder where it acts on muscle cells to "squeeze" milk out of the milk-secreting tissue. Massage of all teats is better than massage of only one or two teats and physically squeezing each teat will reduce the amount of milk left in the udder at the end of milking. Large amounts of milk left in the udder increase frequency of clinical mastitis in infected quarters.

Fright and Flight Syndrome

Positive signals to the brain cause release of oxytocin and milk letdown. However, signals are also sent to the animal's brain when she is frightened or experiences pain. These signals cause the release of adrenalin which interferes with the action of oxytocin making it difficult to obtain maximum milk yield.

Washing Teats in a Parlor

In milking parlors, the common method of washing is to use a hose (delivering sanitizing solution) and hands to remove debris from teats. Only the teats should be washed, as wetting the whole udder makes it difficult to adequately dry the udder before milking machines are attached. Milking wet udders and teats may lead to increased mastitis and bacteria counts in bulk milk.

Washing Teats in a Stanchion Barn

In stanchion barns, it is necessary to use a sanitizing solution in a bucket and individual paper towels to prepare udders and teats. Individual paper towels are highly recommended as sponges and cloths frequently increase transmission of mastitis organisms to uninfected quarters and cows.

Milk Only Dry Teats

Regardless of how the udder and teats are prepared for milking they must be dry when milking machines are attached. Dry with individual paper towels to prevent cross contamination of quarters and cows. Washing udders and teats without thorough drying leaves many organisms on the teats. During milking, water containing mastitis organisms can drip down the sides of teats and may be drawn into teat cups, exposing the teat ends to bacteria. Milking wet teats causes mastitis and lowers milk quality.

Machine-Induced Mastitis

A majority of machine-induced infections occur near the end of milking. Toward the end of milking, when a teat cup liner slips as the liner opens small droplets of milk may be propelled back against the end of the teat. These droplets may contain mastitis organisms and, in some instances may enter the teat. Since milk flow is minimal, chances of the organism being flushed out of the quarter are reduced and an infection may result.

Removing The Milking Unit

The way in which teat cups are removed is more important than the way they are attached. Vacuum should always be shut off before teat cups are removed. The practice of pulling the unit off under vacuum should be avoided because it may cause a machine-induced infection in one of the other quarters. A question often asked is "how should a quarter that milks out ahead of others be handled?" In general, if the teat cup will stay on the teat without slips, it should be left on because removal of the cup stimulates liner slip and may cause machine-mastitis. Incorrect removal of units may constitute a very significant threat to udder health.

Dip Teats Immediately After Unit Removal

Dip at least the lower one-third of each teat in a commercial preparation after every milking. A good teat dip destroys organisms on teats, prevents organisms from growing inside the end of the teat, and eliminates organisms already living inside teat ends. A variety of teat dip products are available. Many products, commercially available, are known to reduce new infections by more than 50 percent. Ask the dealer for research results that prove the product is effective.

Use Clean Dip and Keep Dipping

Maintain teat dip cups in a clean and sanitary manner and never pour remaining dip back into the original container. When dip becomes cloudy or contaminated with bedding or manure, discard the remaining dip, clean cups thoroughly, and refill with fresh dip. Always continue dipping, even during cold weather. However, when the temperature is below 10 degrees F or there is a strong wind chill factor, allow teat dip to remain on teats for at least 30 seconds and then wipe off excess dip with individual paper towels to reduce chapping and freezing of teats.

Which Cows First?

The order in which cows are milked can have an impact on controlling the spread of mastitis, although it is recognized that herds may be grouped by other economic criteria. By milking first lactation cows first, second and later lactation cows with low somatic cell count second, cows with high somatic cell counts third, and clinical mastitis cows last, the chance of spreading mastitis organisms from cow to cow is reduced.