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Eight ways to satisfy ‘the mastitis triangle’

Adriana Toste for Progressive Dairy Published on 03 September 2021

In a consumer-driven market like the dairy industry, the demand for high-quality milk is sought after more than ever. Consumers want to be confident in the dairy products they are purchasing, and producers are cognizant of that.

Milk quality is the one area with the largest impact on a farmer’s price paid, and it should be a concern for all farmers of all herd sizes.

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This concept of milk quality was discussed on Feb. 23 during a National Mastitis Council webinar featuring Dr. Andy Johnson. Johnson, also known as “The Udder Doctor,” introduced this topic by focusing on the “mastitis triangle,” which encompasses the cow, her environment and the daily milking routine, which each have an effect on milk quality.

1. Barn and stall maintenance

Milk quality begins with the cow and the environment she is in, Johnson said. Keeping the cow clean and dry 24 hours a day should be the most critical priority for a well-maintained environment, and this starts with the service of the barns and stalls. Stalls are a key aspect of bacteria multiplication; thus, clean stalls are essential. The goal for each barn is to have less than 5% of stalls with manure, Johnson said. Stall size and design is critical for ensuring manure drops into the alley rather than in the beds.

Dairy farmers can conduct the “bum test” to analyze the position of cows lying in the stall. Studies performed using the “bum test” prove proper cow position results in lower somatic cell counts and less mastitis cases, he said. The use of neck rails in the proper location can help keep the cow in the correct position by stopping her from going too far in the stall.

Johnson also discussed how bedding cultures can expose a lot of information, especially for the organic and bacteria load. In doing so, taking samples of the bedding in the stalls at that moment in time and comparing it to the new bedding helps provide insight to the amount of cleanliness the cow is exposed to.

Johnson’s number one recommendation for improving milk quality using the cows’ environment is mechanically grooming stalls. Ideally, stalls should be groomed at least once a day and as many as three times a day, he said. Each time the cows leave the barn to be milked, stalls should be raked and leveled.

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For mattress stalls, Johnson suggested using a stiff bristle broom or mechanical sweeper over a scraper. While the scraper leaves a film of bacteria, the broom sweeps away anything that may cause a bacteria problem for the cow. The more often the beds are groomed, the drier they are, which results in less bacteria, increased cow comfort and 0.5 to 1.4 kilograms of higher milk production, Johnson said.

2. Cow cleanliness and hygiene

One of the biggest sources of bacteria exposed to the udder are dirty feet and legs. When a cow lies in the stall, her feet and legs are in close proximity to her quarters, which makes the possibility for infection high.

Crossover walkways are a major contributor to dirty feet, which can ultimately lead to mastitis, so regular upkeep should be a priority, Johnson said. This practice can be efficiently done while also grooming stalls.

Additional hygiene efforts, such as trimming tail switches using battery-operated clippers or scissors at calving and five months from then, help keep flies away during the summer months. Singeing udder hair at calving and every other month from then also aids in keeping the cow and area around her udder clean. This is especially essential in robot herds but also conventional herds because udder hair is a primary source of strep-species mastitis, Johnson said.

3. Consistent milking procedures

While tools and technologies are changing in the dairy industry, the key principles to the milking routine remain the same, Johnson said. Between milking shifts, milking protocols should be consistent. While milkers may have different ways of doing things, establishing a concrete list of steps according to your operation is essential. Milkers should be educated in not only the list of steps but also why things are done the way they are. Johnson recommended dry wiping and pre-dipping. Then he advised stripping and drying, and lastly aligning and attaching. He found the highest flow rates and best milk quality to come from this order of steps.

4. Lag time

Accurate lag time between forestrip and unit attachment is the most important factor in rapid and complete milkouts, Johnson said. Often, cows are being overmilked in the beginning of the milking process because of the lack of lag time. He added that research shows at least 90 seconds is the ideal time to allow the cow to let down her milk.

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5. Pre-dip and post-dip practices

Proper pre-dip and post-dip products and storage are also contributing factors to a complete milking routine, Johnson said. Pre-dip should have a fast-acting bacterium kill, while post-dip should be long-lasting. Teats should be well covered when applied with pre- and post-dips. Having adequate storage, mixing and age are critical to the effectiveness of the product. Once mixed, dips should be used between a 24- to 48-hour timeframe for proper bacteria killing power, he said.

6. Clean supplies and machinery

Cleaning gloves, buttons on milking machines, inflations and milking units are also practices that make a huge difference in securing a clean environment and improved milk quality, Johnson said. Any manure residue left on these tools can result in strep species and increased mastitis. Utilizing milk filters is a good indicator for farmers to see if teats are dry and clean prior to attaching a machine. In his experience, the condition of the milk filters has a direct correlation to bacteria counts and to the quality of work being practiced by employees, Johnson said.

As a preventive measure for all of the dairies he consults for, Johnson advises using sanitizer in all drop hoses in the parlour. Because water allows bacteria the ability to move, adding a sanitizer solution reduces bacteria counts and can be used as a manual backflush to reduce somatic cell count, he said.

7. Nonrestricted milk flow

As the most important piece of equipment on the dairy farm, the milking machine serves as one of the significant elements of the “mastitis triangle,” Johnson said. A nonrestricted, clear milk flow from the claw outlet to the pipeline eliminates any margin of error that may affect milk quality, Johnson said. Shortening the milk hose length often speeds up the milking process and helps reduce lift that may occur. When attached to the cow, the cups should be even across all teats. A twist in one quarter can lead to uneven milkout, which ultimately affects milk quality.

8. Maintaining condition of equipment

Johnson said the condition of the hoses in the parlour should be free of tears or kinks that may inhibit the quality of milk. Outdated shut-off devices such as pinch valves should be avoided or properly maintained if used. Vacuum and pulsation levels should be monitored to avoid further issues in system efficiency. System cleaning should also be consistent in water temperature, time and chemical level for each cycle.

While each of these practices can be easily performed, they make a vital difference in the quality of milk. Prioritizing the cow and her environment, along with the milking routine and equipment used, will have the largest impact in ensuring top milk quality, and their combined efforts will ultimately benefit the cow, farmer and consumer.  end mark

Adriana Toste is a student at Oklahoma State University.

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