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  • Is Your Automatic Milking Machine Responsible for Your High SCC?

    Is Your Automatic Milking Machine Responsible for Your High SCC?

    Are you surprised by your SCC since you’ve gone to automation? 

    All farms face the issue of maintaining good SCC levels – and factors such as parlor hygiene, equipment maintenance, and milking procedures all still come into play.  The difference is that each of the common dairy parlor designs has a different set of areas that could be a source of contamination and high SCC.


    The following is a review of some of the most common issues and benefits of automatic parlors:

    Robotic Milking Machine

    Robotic parlors streamline operations and allow for collection of data that used to be difficult to capture. Robotic parlors have several benefits and drawbacks in terms of SCC.

    Pros:

    Milking frequency


    With robotic parlors, many cows choose to get milked more than twice a day. On average, cows will visit the robot between 3-5 times a day. This means that milk is removed from the udder more frequently, leaving nowhere for bacteria to grow.


    Cow Stress


    Most robotic parlors are set up to minimize bullying of younger cows by their more dominant herd mates. Robotic parlors also provide a consistent milking routine which helps to minimize stress. Many studies have shown that reducing stress lowers cortisol levels and helps promote milk let down and a healthy immune system.


    Data Collection


    Robotic parlors automatically collect data on every single cow, each time she is milked. This data includes SCC, yield, fat-protein ratio, and much more. The data is available almost immediately and can be used to take early action and treat cases of mastitis before they have the chance to impact your Bulk Tank somatic cell count (BTSCC).


    Hygiene


    The teat cups in robotic parlors get washed after each cow. This helps to both keep the Total Bacteria Count (TBC) of your bulk tank low, and minimize bacteria transfer between cows.


    Teat Cup Removal


    Teat cups get removed one at a time as each quarter is done milking out. The pulsation and vacuum in also adjusted in each cup based on the flow rate in that quarter. Both of these features help to prevent overmilking and damage to teats that can encourage bacteria growth.

    Cons:

    Transition Period


    It is important to remember that there is a transition period for cows and staff when switching to a robotic parlor.  This can be stressful time. Some cows adjust quickly to the robot system, and other never adjust at all, eventually leaving the herd. During the transition period, SCC may increase due to the stress of the change.


    Total Bacteria Count


    A robotic parlor may cause an increase in the TBC of your bulk tank. This is due to constant milk line use and a slow, continuous flow of milk to the bulk tank which can lead to inefficient cooling.


    Cow Bullying


    If a robotic parlor isn’t designed properly more submissive cows may need to wait until the robot is free to avoid being bullied by older herd mates.


    Teat Detection


    Udder conformation and teat color can sometimes cause problems with the laser system used to place the cups. Over time poor cup placement can lead to teat injury, making it easier for bacteria to invade and cause SCC problems.

    Rotary Milking Machine

    Rotary parlors aren’t completely automatic because teat preparation and cup attachment still has to be done manually. However, the degree of automation does have an influence on BTSCC.

    Pros:

    Equipment Sanitation


    Rotary parlors generally have good equipment sanitation systems. This helps prevent bacteria spreading between cows during milking. It also helps the TBC of your bulk tank stay low.

    Cons:

    Transition Time


    It can take some time for milkers to adjust to transitioning to a rotary parlor. This can mean that individual cow attention and milking preparation time suffers. This in turn can lead to poor attention to hygiene and cleaning, contributing to high SCC levels and mastitis.


    Vibration Levels


    Rotary parlors tend to have higher vibration levels than other parlor designs. Cows pick up on vibrations from equipment, which can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol prevents a good milk let down response and can lead to poor immune system function. This can cause SCC and mastitis problems in seriously affected cows.

    Conclusion

    While automated milking parlors have many benefits, they can also come with drawbacks for SCC management as well. You can minimize these potential negative effects through proper planning, training and equipment maintenance.


    If you are considering investing in automation, take the time to prepare for transitioning to a new system and take steps to make sure that milkers understand the new potential sources of contamination.


    Do you have questions about instant, milk SCC testing and improving your milk quality control systems? Contact us today, or visit our store, for information about how we can help you increase your monthly profits.

    About the Author

    Anna Schwanke is an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph, Ontario. She is responsible for researching and writing about a wide variety of topics related to dairy cow welfare and management for Dairy Quality Inc. The 10 years she spent living in Australia, as well as her love of travelling, give her a firsthand viewpoint of issues facing the international dairy community. She plans to graduate from the University’s College of Physical & Engineering Science in 2019 and pursue a career in the Life Sciences or Agriculture industry.

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