Keep your cows clean

What is the most common question dairy farmers ask when I visit their farm. I get mastitis but it’s only “environmental”.

It’s not rocket science “KEEP the COWS CLEAN “It takes a lot of work keeping dairy cows clean. Not only does it take a lot of work, but it is also very important. So how do you do it?

If your cows live in a cubicle house. It has open feed areas, various locations for fresh drinking water and stalls for the cows to rest. There is plenty of room for the cows to move around and come and go as they please, choosing which stall they want to use. You might be surprised to know that some cows prefer the same stall every day. They will even go as far as to push another cow out of the stall.

Keep the bedding fresh and dry this should be done daily every milking, remove any manure and re-bed and fill the cow stalls. In addition to the new bedding, clean the shed on a daily basis. “The old twice a day chore is gone”

 If you milk cows three times a day. While they are being milked, clean the shed and alley’s. All the manure should be removed from around the corners, edges and around water troughs if you see manure remove it! don’t walk past. It’s just not the case of sitting on a tractor and moving the manure into the lagoon, or taking scrappers for granted.

The cubicles in which the cows rest should all be hand-raked. All manure has to be removed and the bedding levelled out to keep the area comfortable and clean,

So why do you do this? Importantly, it is better for their health. If your cow’s feet are covered in manure, she lies down when she gets up she rubs her feet on her teats and covers them in pathogens.

 Cows need to have a dry and clean environment to protect them from illnesses like mastitis, a painful inflammation. To try to help them avoid mastitis you have to work very hard to make sure our cows have the cleanest environment possible.

Take a look at your cows and ask yourself are my cows as clean as they can be?

Antimicrobial drugs

An undesired consequence of the use of antimicrobial drugs in cattle is the presence of drug residues  in the milk of lactating animals. In lactating dairy cattle, this translates into production losses due to withholding of nonsaleable waste milk containing drug residues. To avoid discarding this valuable product while reducing feed costs, many dairies feed waste milk to preweaned calves.
Regardless of the financial advantages of feeding waste milk to calves, an important question is whether this practice can affect the calves’ health and result in unnecessary selection of antibiotic resistant bacteria that could reduce successful outcomes when treating infections with antibiotics.

Cephapirin is  a drug that can be found in drugs used commercially for treatment of cows with mastitis . Mastitis treatment is the most common use of antibiotics on dairy farms; therefore it is not surprising that most drug residues in waste milk are probably a consequence of treating cows with mastitis. This finding highlights even further the importance of management efforts to reduce the cases of mastitis in the herd,

Cows with chronic mastitis problems

Cows with chronic mastitis problems act as a reservoir of infection for the rest of the herd, they cost you money in treatment costs and lost milk production, and they spend more time in the hospital shed requiring time-consuming care – increasing your time. Cows that should be considered for culling include:

  • Cows with persistently high SCCs.
  • Cows that do not respond to treatment and continue to flare-up repeatedly with clinical mastitis.
    Cows with infections that persist in spite of dry cow treatment.
    Cows with mycoplasma mastitis. Of course, other factors must be considered before culling (type of infection, milk yield, replacement options, etc.) but, many times removing a few highly problematic cows will yield big dividends on your SCC report and will be well worth the loss in the long run. Culling should never be considered a substitute for solving the underlying problem with high SCCs or increased cases of clinical mastitis on your dairy. Culling is just one component to a comprehensive mastitis control plan.

You want to milk your cows faster ?

You want to milk your cows faster, there is no secret! Make sure that everyone on the farm is using the same routine and not in a mind-set that this is how I have been taught and this is the way I do things.

On a recent visit to implement a milking – time test / Dynamic test

The cows were entering the parlour and the pressure of the bag meant that the cows were leaking milk, the herdsman said look the cows are happy content and are stimulated

How wrong he was, he placed the unit onto the cow and yes she milked for 30 seconds then she stopped and there was liner slip .

The leaking milk was Cisternal milk let down

Research now shows for the oxytocin to reach the udder it can take 90 seconds or more for alveolar milk-let down.

The ideal protocol includes:

Pre-dip with chlorine dioxide

Rub teat end and strip

Re-dip with chlorine dioxide

Wipe with individual cloth towel

Attach at 90 seconds after first stimulation

Detach when milk flow is less than 400ml per minute with two-second delay

Post-dip with 1 percent iodine with conditioner

The more physical contact with the teat end, the more you will see a positive effect.

The average milking time is 3- 4 minutes per cow, with an average of 3.5 litres of milk per minute

 “Yes I do have farms that average 5-6 litres a minute “the first two minutes, which directly relates to udder stimulation, watch to see if the cow milks consistently.

Other key factors are moving the cows in a calm fashion so they are comfortable walking into the parlour and training the cows how to be milked.

Teamwork among the owners, milkers and equipment dealers is overriding.

Maintenance is key in the parlour since it can run up to 18 hours a day there isn’t another piece of equipment on the farm that is used as much as the parlour, so ensure it is running at top speed all the time, liner change is essential.

Pulsators and the milking system should be graphed monthly. Pulsators, hoses and meters are also inspected regularly.

Post dipping is essential as the teat would have been soaked with milk, ensure you cover the whole teat” some post dipping flushing units may save time but don’t cover the whole teat and are not as efficient as you may think “make sure you use good quality teat Post dip with conditioner whether it’s fine-tuning the milking procedure or making adjustments to facilities, you need all employees in tune with what is necessary for its cows to achieve optimal success.

Being stuck in a routine is not the way forward; trying new methods over a couple of days will not ensure a better milking routine.

The success of the milking routine

The success of the milking routine is a concerted effort between the cow, the operator, and the milking facilities. Good milking starts with a clean, healthy, properly prepared cow. Cleanliness is important to avoid transfer of mastitis-causing organisms from the environment to cows’ udders and from cow to cow during milking. The ease and speed of cleaning teats is directly related to the cleanliness of cows when they enter the parlour. The environment has direct bearing on the efficacy of the milking process. Correct teat Stimulation prepares cows to release their milk and is important to reduce the time required to remove milk. Reducing the time that milking units are attached to the cow will improve milking parlour efficacy and reduce teat tissue stress and related mastitis risk. An effective and efficient milking process is as follows:

Always strive to provide a clean, low stress housing environment for cows.

Maintain a consistent operating routine for bringing cows to the milking parlour and during the milking process.

Check foremilk and udder for mastitis.

Apply an effective pre-milking sanitizer to teats.

Remove debris and dry teats completely with an individual towel.

Attach milking unit from 1 to 4 min after the start of stimulation.

Adjust units as necessary for proper alignment.

Shut off vacuum when milk flow rate has dropped to a minimal level and remove milking units.

Apply a post-milking germicide to teats.

 None of the above should be disregarded if mastitis prevention and quality milk production are your goals. Pre-milking procedures should be performed in the same manner and order of operation for every milking. The order in which cows are milked can have an impact on controlling the spread of mastitis the chance of spreading mastitis organisms from cow to cow is reduced. The milking parlour should be designed so that the various steps in the milking routine can be performed efficiently and easily, providing cow handling and positioning facilities and convenient locations for the equipment used for cow preparation such as towel dispensers, teat dip cups, or permanently mounted power dipping cups.

Cow bedding options

Trials conducted over the past decade on bedding options and how they perform in terms of comfort, hygiene, cleanliness, and welfare and cow preference.

Promoting an environment on which cows want to lie down is about more than just comfort. The bedding material you choose plays a important role in preventing mastitis, reducing injury, regulating temperature and fitting into the overall management system.

One measure of bedding quality is the concentration of environmental pathogens, which play a role in milk quality and are major causes of mastitis – clinical and subclinical. Environmental pathogen concentrations are impacted by the dry matter and pH of the bedding materials. As bedding dry matter increases, the concentration of environmental pathogens decreases, and as the pH of the bedding material increases, environmental pathogen concentrations increase.

Both of these factors impact the quality of bedding material. This is why cubicles need to be cleaned each milking, or at least twice daily. Moisture from the ground lead to elevated bacteria counts also. There tends to be a seasonal effect on the concentration of environmental pathogens in bedding material, with summer having the highest concentration of pathogens likely due to temperature and humidity.

You can control contamination of teats from environmental pathogens with good management practices. Teats become contaminated through contact with contaminated bedding and other environmental risks. The number of bacteria on the teat end has been positively correlated to the number of bacteria on bedding. Adequate amounts of dry bedding ensure minimal contamination of teat skin with bacteria. There are a number of factors that lead to increased bacterial population of bedding material including ambient temperature, humidity, bedding management, ventilation, cow density, , bedding dry matter and bedding storage.

Keep beds dry

Regardless of what type of bedding is used it should be dry

Any bedding that is wet or damp will increase the bacterial growth; bedding should be stored in a dry environment. Bacteria love moist warm environments

Bedding must be comfortable to lie on.

Dry bedding is critical year-round for cow comfort and to reduce pathogen growth. As bedding dry matter increases, bacterial populations have been shown to decrease. (Bedding is one of the primary sources of exposure to environmental pathogens, and maximum bacterial growth occurs within 24 hours and up to 48 hours of adding bedding material.)

Good footing from bedding prevents injury in the stall and in the passage-way.

Nonabrasive bedding promotes cow comfort and aides in injury reduction.

Bedding should drain well to keep cows dry and limit pathogen growth.

Bedding material should provide ease of use,

Sand and straw improve the physical cleanliness of cubicles compared with sawdust, but straw and sawdust register higher bacteria counts than sand (the major pathogens associated with bedding materials being Streptococci, coliforms.

Sand is the ideal cubicle bedding surface for the dairy cow because it limits bacterial exposure to the teat end and provides cushion, traction and support for the cow when she is lying down and during the standing and lying process.

Sand is hard to handle and can block drains and wear out equipment.

You need to ask your self are your cows worth the hassle?

Cattle Foot Baths

Cattle foot baths

All cows should be included in the foot bathing routine.

Permanent, concrete footbaths may measure 3 m (10 ft.) long and 0.2–0.6 m (8–24 in.) wide. The sides of the bath should not slope inward and should be 15–25 cm (6–9 in.) deep. Cows prefer to use footbaths that have a bottom close to floor level; therefore, a built-up block “rounded lip” could be considered in the design. The medicated solution should be a minimum of 8–10 cm (3–4 in.) deep. Drainage from the bath should be provided to ensure the foot can be properly cleansed. To avoid blockage, the drain hole should be 10–20 cm in diameter and located at the lowest point of the bath.

Footbaths should be located in relation to the exit from the milking parlour in a frost-free environment with, ideally, an area suitable to drain chemicals from the feet to avoid contaminating the bedding. At all costs, deviation from the normal free flow of cow progression should be avoided.

Prewashing the feet before entering the footbath has been increasing in popularity. Ideally, the wash bath should be located before the cows enter the milking parlour. This allows time for washing fluid to drain before cows enter the chemical bath. The dimensions should be similar to those of the medication bath.

Use of a footbath is not a substitute for either good hygiene or claw trimming. However, if digital dermatitis is endemic on a farm, regular use of a footbath should be required.

Plastic, fiberglass, or metal portable footbaths should be avoided. A hoof mat, consisting of a sheet of foam plastic encased in a perforated plastic cover, is also available. The foam is soaked in medication that squirts up between the claws when the cow walks on the mat. There are no recent reports on the effectiveness of this device.

Fully automated power spray washers are claimed to be extremely economical in the use of water, and they require no operator. They deliver soapy water, and some users believe this device alone reduces the incidence of foot disease.

Chemical Agents for Footbaths:

Formalin 4% is the least expensive footbath solution for the control of interdigital phlegmon (foot rot). Some cows will refuse to enter a formalin footbath if the solution is stronger than 4%. Formalin has been found of value to control digital dermatitis. The solution should be changed after the passage of ~200 cows, more frequently if the bath is heavily contaminated with manure. Formalin has good bacteriostatic activity and some potential to harden the epidermis. However, it is ineffective at temperatures <13°C.

Formalin generates strong fumes that irritate the lungs of milkers and can taint milk. It should never be used in baths located near the milking parlour.

The stronger the formalin solution used, the more effective it is, but the danger of a chemical burn on the cow’s skin is also greater. If the hair on the foot appears to be standing on end or the skin is pink, bathing should be suspended. Normally, cows can tolerate twice daily baths for 3 days using a 3% solution. The treatment should be repeated every 3 wk. higher concentrations should only be used for the most resistant conditions.

Formalin is regarded as a hazardous waste, and land disposal restrictions should be checked and followed. Formalin must never be released into sewer systems, because sewer treatment plants may have problems and contaminated drinking water could be released. However, formalin is said to break down in 7 days in sludge or slurry; even then, it is wise to wait until it is diluted to one part formalin in three parts sludge before spreading it on arable land. Preferably, the land selected should not have a high water table.


Foot bathing with a 5% solution of copper or zinc sulphate controls interdigital dermatitis and is of some value in controlling foot rot (interdigital phlegmon). There are two grades of copper sulphate, and the pentahydrate grade should be used. The solution must be prepared 5 hours before use. Prewashing of the cow’s feet is advised, and the solution should be changed after the passage of ~200 cows.

Copper has a strong affinity to be bound by soil, the organic matter in manure, and soil minerals. Hence, much of the copper found in soil is unavailable for plant uptake. Once the copper reaches a high level in the soil, the process cannot be reversed. Therefore, plants stunted by high levels of copper have a lower nutritional value to cattle. Copper sulphate footbath solutions may be tagged to slurry at the highest practical dilution and spread widely on the land.

The sulphates are quite rapidly deactivated by combining with the proteins in manure.

Studies have shown that formalin (formaldehyde) is carcinogenic meaning that it can cause cancer in humans. Furthermore, it can cause serious damage to organs including the eyes (blindness), heart, and kidney. Next time when touching formalin, think about your workers .

Over use and adding more is a misguided belief .

Your Pre-Rinse wash

Are you aware why your pre-rinse water temperature should not be higher than 45°C, but also not lower than 35°C?

Proteins will denature when temperature exceeds 45°C, making it more difficult to clean

Fats will solidify and adhere to surfaces when temperature reaches below 35°C Denaturation can occur when proteins and nucleic acids are subjected to elevated temperature they lose the quaternary structure, tertiary structure, and secondary structure resulting in Milk Coagulation and Protein Denaturation.

Have you seen fat globules in your filter , do you mistake it for mastitis ?

Check your filter after your wash and see if there are any signs of denaturation or Coagulation

The future of the dairy sector

I Recently read a dairy sector Report on future farming, I am trying to understand future trends and where it will take the industry .

Over the last 25 years dairy farming has been taken to another level with a shift to intensive farming that really started in the Second World War. This effort for cheap food led to animal welfare issues related to widespread acceptance of confinement systems, genetic selection for growth rate and yield,  . In the twenty five years, a recent historical report has found significant changes in the number of animals farmed and the structure of the industry. There has been growth in the dairy sector per farm, however a decline in the red meat sector, and plateau across all agricultural sectors. Breeding for increased growth rate and yield has continued apace with fewer cows, more milk, with associated health and welfare issues.

Milk quotas were introduced within the European Union to alleviate restrictions on EEC milk output and were introduced in response to the problem of surpluses and their budgetary consequences.

The action of the scheme has had wide-ranging effects on agricultural patterns and markets and on linked activities, but must also be seen in the context of world trade in dairy products.

Pressure on the dairy sector to placate continuing societal demands for cheap food will be worsened by a range of economic, social and environmental factors.

There seems to be a focus and a large shift away from farming systems and input standards towards also measuring and seeking to improve welfare outcomes for the animals. This trend is expected to continue and accelerate. The development and adoption of outcomes-based approaches to welfare is likely to be supported by the development of new automated technologies for assessing animal health and wellbeing.

The legal recognition of animals as sensitive beings in the EU in 1997 was a major victory for animal welfare and established a foundation on which future animal protection legislation could be built. Another landmark moment was the introduction of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which overhauled animal welfare legislation in the UK and introduced a ‘duty of care’; making owners and keepers responsible for ensuring the welfare needs of their animals are met.

The generally-quoted aims for mastitis control and milk quality on UK dairy farms are:

Mastitis incidence rate of no more than 30 cases per 100 cows per year.

Mastitis persistence rate of no more than 20% of the herd affected per year.

Mastitis re-occurrence rate of less than 10% of the total number of cases.

Herd-average Somatic Cell Count below 150,000 cells/ml.

An average Bactoscan result of below 5,000.

We don’t live in a sterile world bacterial growth is the new buzz word and the dairy sector needs to prepare and control this increase in bacteria.

Latest studies are showing environmental pathogens are on the increase as controlling contagious mastitis is in decline.

Set goals

Train staff

Make staff aware why they are undertaking these actions.

A positive and less stressful environment is essential .

Smart farming technologies.

Smart farming technologies.

Dairy farmers are facing many challenges today. As new systems for milking cows are installed it seems software systems are very complex. Many applications produce a lot of data, but do not offer the right information simply to the farmer. 

The complexity in the agricultural sector is increasing rapidly.

We are now moving into the age of SMART farming Therefore the future smart farming technologies are going to be leading the way over the years.

Smart farming is new and still developing it’s a huge market and growing rapidly.

You have just spent a fortune on your new milking system, with the knowledge you have the latest and up to date information at hand.

However the reality is that you just don’t have the time to digest all the information and act on it

That information is crucial to act and react to different situations.

I recently visited a farm where the state of the art milking system was installed with the latest software and a mind boggling amount of information.

Just one aspect of Smart farming when In conversation I asked the farm manager if he knew his percentage of mastitis cases per annum and whether all treated cases were recorded I was reassured that all cases were recorded and he believed his case rate was 25 percent, once I scoured the software it transpired it was more like 38 percent.

Having this knowledge he can now turn data into information to help him make better decisions.

If this data is used farmers, herdsmen and other dairy professionals can use the information to pass on to the employees and act accordingly.