The Milking Machine and its Failings

Milking systems have progressed over the years with the introduction of new technology and automation however the principle of milk removal from the teat has changed very little

This has provided the dairy farmer with improvements in productivity by reducing the labour involved in the milking process. Unfortunately there are some basic functional problems with the milking equipment that causes poor milking performance and reduced milk quality.

Evidence is provided of why conventional milking systems in use today do not work well. It explains why cows do not milk out well, why their teats are irritated and what causes liner crawl and incomplete milk out.

There have been many attempts in the past 40 years to improve the performance of conventional milking systems. The known performance problems include liner slip, teat crawl, teat damage, teat irritation/pain and incomplete milking. These attempts have produced numerous inventions by the major milking equipment manufacturers.

When there is no milk flow biphasic milking phase and end milk phase the teat becomes flaccid and its frictional engagement with the milking liner less stable, whereby the teat tends to be sucked deeper into the teat cup. Thus, each teat cup crawls on the teat towards the udder and thereby causes strangulation of the milk conducting interior of the teat close to the udder, so that milking becomes more difficult and finally the milk flow completely ceases in spite of the fact that some milk still remains in the udder.

Various attempts have been made to improve the effects of vacuum on the teat by carefully shaping the teat cup and liner to support the teat as well as possible including fluted .square or triangular liners

A milking machine exposes the cow’s teat tips to a relatively strong milking vacuum, usually about 40-50 kPa. (40-50 kPa is 11.8 to 14.8 in Hg) along with liner compression this strong milking vacuum and force means that the teats could be in pain initially during the milking, when the milk flow is low or non-existing, This may lead to that the hormone adrenaline is secreted and makes continued milk extraction difficult.

A high milking vacuum is needed primarily for ensuring a safe attachment of the teat cups to the teats and, secondary, for achieving a rapid milking and a high milk yield. However, a disadvantage of such a high milking vacuum could distress the teats, especially at the beginning and at the end of the milking interval when there is no or insignificant milk flow through one or more teats.

A low milking vacuum while it is safe to say the pressure on the teat is less it may cause slow incomplete milking due to impaction off milk on the teat end, this in turn will cause distress and release adrenalin the cow stops milk release.

Milking Machines are not perfect at the moment its all we have.

Having your milking equipment to its optimised performance is essential, training staff to understand the consequences of poor milkability should be a fundamental objective.

Troubleshooting Problems with Low Milk Production

These are just a few points to look at

Milking machine construction and performances may be directly related to the milking ability of animals in order to milk quickly, completely and gently, to maintain healthy udders and to produce milk with a high quality level.

Milking machines are rapidly changing in size and design with the increase in herd size. Milking parlours on large farms operate for more than 15 h day with cows milked three times a day. While no one design is perfect, the following factors will impact milking parlour design and style:

It is often assumed that the milking machine is working properly and operated correctly. But it’s risky to think that as long as the motors run and milk flows through the pipeline, everything is correct.

This may or may not be true. The two major problems with milking systems are malfunctioning equipment and operator mismanagement.

The problems can occur individually or concurrently. In either case, the dairy farmer increases his chances of lowering milk production and, ultimately, lowering income. Research shows a high connection between the incidence of mastitis and poorly functioning or poorly operated milking equipment. Mastitis is not a new disease. It was recognized and studied even before the milking machine was invented. Because the dairy industry became more reliant on efficient milking operations, the milking machine is now used on nearly every dairy farm. In many cases, when a dairy herd’s incidence of mastitis increases, the first area to be targeted is the milking equipment. The milking system can be adjusted or adapted to function properly, but other factors can contribute to this problem.

Raising the working vacuum level or even lowering the vacuum level can have catastrophic consequences making adjustments to your milking machine without understanding what happens at the claw is naïve  

Cows are usually milked twice daily. Milking twice a day yields at least 40% more milk

Than once a day… Increasing milking frequency to 3 x day increases milk yield by up to

20% (range 5-20%). The increase is usually highest for first lactation cow and declines

As the cow gets older. The most likely reasons for increased milk production is milking


Residual milk can be defined as the amount of milk left in the udder after milking is

Completed. About 10-20% of total milk is left in the udder as residual milk.

The dry period effect is related to body condition of the cow at calving. Cows in

Good body condition at calving produce higher milk yield during the following lactation

Than in cows in thin body condition at calving.

Evaluate the herd for a high incidence of subclinical or clinical mastitis. Check individual milk samples from all milking cows using cell count. The average somatic cell count should be under 300,000. In the whole herd, 10% or less of the cows should have a positive 2 or higher CMT on a composite of four quarters or positive 3 in one or more quarters on quarter samples. At least 70% of the cows on a somatic cell counting program should show a linear score of 1 and 2. Teat end health may be a problem if more than 20% of the teats show evidence of erosion, eversion, cuts, or sores. Check both the milking system and milking practices. Culture milk samples and run sensitivity tests when warranted. Establish both pre- and post-teat dipping and routine dry cow treatments with recommended products. Nutritional parameters to check are current levels of protein, zinc, selenium, and vitamins A and E. Examine and screen the ration or individual feeds for moulds and mycotoxins.

Underfeeding grain to fresh cows can lower peak milk production. Gradually increase grain intake from about 1% of body weight to about 2% of body weight by two weeks after calving.

Complications around freshening time, such as mastitis, metritis, ketosis, and displaced abomasum can impact peak milk. Improper dry cow nutrition, especially during the close-up period, can have an effect. Check the transition diets and feeding practices carefully, as well as the early dry period.

Debilitating conditions like feet and leg problems, lung damage from pneumonia or lungworms, and intestinal damage from severe enteritis or parasitism can lower peak milk.

Adequate forage dry matter intake and effective fibre are needed to maintain normal rumen function and milk production. Cows should receive a minimum of 1.4% of their body weight in forage dry matter. Forage and total neutral detergent fibre intake should be maintained at minimum levels of 0.80% and 1.20% of body weight, respectively.

Serious ration deficiencies or imbalances in energy, protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulphur, and salt can contribute to reduced peak milk.

When anaemia is severe or persistent, production can be adversely affected. Possible causes include deficiencies in protein, iron, copper, cobalt, or selenium. External or internal parasitism can cause severe anaemia.

Serious over-conditioning of cows during late lactation or the dry period may reduce total feed intake at next freshening. It may also increase the incidence of metabolic problems at calving, especially ketosis.

Any restriction in feed or water supply will result in a drop in milk production. The most

Dramatic effect is brought about by shortage of water as the cow has no means of storing

Water. Withholding access to water or insufficient supply of water for few hours will

Result in a rapid drop in milk yield.

Overcrowding animals in a free-stall operation can limit production. If cows stand excessively, this can cause fatigue stress and may affect milk production.

Stray voltage should be examined when other obvious factors appear normal.

Check records to see if dry cows have had a dry period of seven to eight weeks.