5 Steps For Faster & Safer Milking

About Evolution Diary Milking Liners

Is it time to replace our parlor?

That’s what Rick and Marleen Adams were wondering two years ago as they struggled to reduce a stubbornly high somatic cell count (SCC). Their double-12 herringbone parlor at Sugar Creek Dairy in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, was more than 20 years old. Average SCC for the Adamses’ 600 Holsteins ranged from 160,000 in winter to more than 200,000 in summer.

I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner.” The Adamses’ experience shows that faster milking doesn’t have to come at the expense of cow health and milk quality.

Many factors are, of course, necessary for successful milking, but focusing on a few key areas of the milking system can help almost any dairy optimize their settings to harvest milk as quickly, gently and completely as possible. Here are five steps dairy managers can take now for faster, safer milking:

Step 1: Know the recommended vacuum range for your liner

Liner design has a greater influence on milking performance than any other machine factor, and today’s producers have their choice of a wide variety of inflation types, including models designed specifically for gentle milking at higher speeds. However, experts caution against choosing a liner based on any one specific feature. “If there was a silver-bullet liner that stopped mastitis, everyone would be using it,” says Andrew Johnson, DVM, a veterinary parlor consultant and former president of the National Mastitis Council. “A liner that milks out fast, and is gentle to the cow, is only part of the story. You also need to have the right vacuum and pulsation settings to maximize performance of the liner you have.”

Step 2: Measure claw vacuum during peak milk flow

Claw vacuum, not system vacuum, is the most important and direct measurement of milking machine performance, Johnson says. “System vacuum is irrelevant,” he says. “What matters is average claw vacuum during milking in the highestproducing cows. It’s the starting point for setting system vacuum that best matches the liner.”

Because claw vacuum is inversely proportional to milk flow rate, it will be lowest at peak flow, generally between the first and second minute after unit attachment.

Step 3: Optimize milk flow

“Milk flow needs to be addressed before you start adjusting system vacuum or pulsation,” Reid says. “If you’re able to remove restrictions in the milk path, you may be able to raise claw vacuum to the optimum level without any other adjustments.” Connecting hoses that are too long, twisted, not properly aligned in relation to the cow or fighting too hard against gravity can result in incomplete milking.

Step 4: Adjust and observe

Set the system vacuum so average claw vacuum is approximately in the middle of the recommended range for the liner you’re using and observe the cows. Are they kicking, stamping, dumping manure? If cows appear comfortable and are milking out cleanly with little teat-end congestion, begin raising the vacuum about 0.3 inHg (7.6 kPa) every three days. Randomly hand-strip a few cows after the units come off. Continue raising vacuum slowly and incrementally without going outside the recommended range.

Step 5: Pay attention to pulsation

Pulsators should be open about 60% of the time, extracting milk, and closed about 40% of the time, resting or massaging the teats. If the pulsator milk-to-rest ratio is off, cows may not milk out adequately, and mastitis may result.


“Producers need to be in the barn and see how their cows adjust to change, especially during milking,” Reid says. “They need to learn what makes cows most relaxed because relaxed cows produce more milk.” Rick Adams agrees. “The cows will always tell you what you need to do,” he says. “Just pay attention and trust your instincts.”

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