The goal of any dairy should be to produce quality milk through the maintenance of excellent udder health and parlor efficiency. There are obviously many factors that result in achieving these goals but we must remember people can have one of the largest impacts on the success or failure of these processes. And we can’t forget about the milking system that is in use daily.

Just because regular maintenance is performed on your milking system, such as rebuilding pulsators, it does not mean a routine system evaluation is unnecessary.

A few weeks ago, I was performing a routine milking system evaluation. The pulsators were all rebuilt about three weeks prior. So we shouldn’t have found any issues with them, correct? Unfortunately, a number of pulsators had significant irregularities in their cycles. It was deter-mined the coils were damaged from excessive wear. Despite routine replacement of some of the parts with a re-build kit, the pulsators were still malfunctioning.

A complete milking system evaluation should be per-formed as part of any scheduled maintenance program and any time there is an equipment modification to the system. It’s also important to do a complete evaluation in a new start-up system. Just because everything is new does not mean the equipment is functioning properly or doesn’t need to be adjusted.

So what needs to be done? The National Mastitis Council has a documented process for the evaluation of milking systems. Any individual who performs a system evaluation should use this procedure and these guide-lines. It is also important to perform both milking time and “dry” tests. There are certain tests, such as teat-end vacuum, that can realistically only be performed under full milk load. Other tests require the system to be shut down and restarted, so we can’t do those during milking.

I often see certain spot check tests performed without a complete evaluation. These spot checks can be useful but a complete system evaluation should be performed at least twice a year and more frequently in larger operations. A complete evaluation has not been performed if there has been no testing during milking.

This is also an excellent time to evaluate other aspects of the system such as automatic take-off settings, milker routines/procedures and system cleanliness. If we don’t take the time to perform some of these checks, issues will likely not be found and corrected.

We must keep in mind the relationship between the milking system, the milker and the cow is what allows for an efficient routine and quality milk.

If any problems are found, a follow up evaluation should be performed to make sure everything is corrected. I have seen issues where a piece of equipment was repaired or replaced but that in turn affected the function of another aspect of the system. An excellent example of this is the repair of system vacuum leaks affecting teat-end vacuum.

If potential areas for improvement are found in the routine, then it might be beneficial to perform a more complete parlor evaluation with the use of milk f low graphs from system software or a LactoCorder. This allows for an accurate evaluation of prep-lag times, milk letdown and automatic take-off function. The graphic presentation of this data also provides an excellent visual tool for milker training programs.

The end result of a system evaluation is often improved milking performance, milk quality and cleaning performance. Don’t overlook opportunities to fine tune your milking equipment and routine.


Note: This story appeared in the November 2016 issue of Dairy Herd Management.