Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Keep it clean

Minimising teat and udder infection has to be a top priority

Frank O'Sullivan

Let me first declare my background in milking cows: I once milked 90 cows at home on a Sunday evening in 1982 when my brother went to the Leinster final at Croke Park.

The cows, as all animals can do, sensed a nervous stranger in the parlour and showed appreciation in the usual way -- dunged into the pit or, with a short, sharp lift of the hind leg, sent clusters flying. I think the machine sucked more of this into the tank than milk, as two of the six clusters always seemed to be on the ground. Flying kicking bars, used in an attempt to spancil these edgy beasts, broke a jar. My career as a milk relief agent was finished.

Fast forward to this year and I adopt the role of milking routine consultant -- a consultant is defined as a person who tells someone else how to do something without being able to do it themselves.

Pamela Ruegg, who heads a programme in Wisconsin, USA, sees the perfect milking routine as follows:

1. Forestrip;

2. Predip;

3. Dry;

4. Apply cluster;

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5. Remove cluster;

6. Postdip.

Perhaps German fraulein-farmer types or Dutch maidens accustomed to routine have the patience for this entire schedule but the Irish farmer isn't used to a six-step milking routine, and has condensed it to one -- apply cluster.

Last week I was knocked down by a milkman who opened the front gate of his 20-unit parlour and proceeded to teat spray cows as they trotted out to the cubicle house. He resembled one of those Kilkenny hurlers in a pre-match warm up drill, shoving the hurley in and out while picking up the sliothar at speed.

Now, this is the type of farmer who would never pass the modern-day driving test, as he surveys the countryside with one finger on the steering wheel and elbow out the window. He has summarised the sign of the cross and church-aisle genuflection to a quiver of his hand, a bob of his head and a flicker of the knee. He can do the Hail Mary at removals in shorthand. Will he ever fore-strip, pre-dip, dry, apply cluster and post dip? No chance. His only chance of teat hygiene salvation is to keep the cubicles well-bedded, passageways clean and calving areas in a state of deep straw.

Seriously, awareness of udder and teat hygiene will pay dividends at milking time. One of the benefits of fore-stripping is that oxytocin is released 90 seconds afterwards, leading to a super contraction of muscle in the udder tissue and rapid milk let-down. Farmers that fore-strip actually milk faster than those that do not, and have the added benefits of early clinical mastitis detection.

Teat dipping or spraying is a must, as long as the teat is totally covered. Bacteria on the skin is killed, especially at a time when the teat canal is still open (up to a half an hour after milking). We do a test for teat dipping efficiency using a paper teat wrap-around. Unfortunately, many of the images on the paper look like the holy shroud, with gaps indicating poor teat coverage.

Often as not, calculations of teat dip quantities used confirm under usage. Iodine-based is best (with an emollient -- a skin softener).

Despite the arrival of cluster removers, overmilking, it seems, remains a major issue. These need to be set properly and some parlours have installed a 'duovac', a reduced vacuum system that cuts vacuums automatically when milk flow stops.

Two definitions of 'routine' exist in my dictionary. Firstly, it is a set of mechanically performed procedures. Secondly, it is a set piece of entertainment, in a nightclub or theatre.

It's up to the farmer as to which definition will apply in his parlour.

Irish Independent