While it sometimes might seem to be a miracle that we managed to get all the cows milked and through the parlor three times in 24 hours, in reality, no miracles happen in parlors. This fact does not stop us humans from thinking differently, however, and hoping that one or more do happen. Here are three examples.
The first commonly expected miracle is disinfecting dirty teats with a 30-second application of a pre-dip. Sure, the label might say it kills 99.9% of everything in 30 seconds, but in reality, no teat dip is made to work on dirty teats.
According to Dr. Pamela Ruegg of Michigan State University, teat dip products should have efficacy data based on National Mastitis Council testing protocols. Effective products will usually have at least a 3-5 log score reduction in the number of bacteria on teat skin. However, all teat dip testing protocols used by the National Mastitis Council are designed to be used on clean teats. There are no testing protocols for use on dirty teats, and thus, no products are designed or certified in any way to disinfect dirty teats. It is difficult to disinfect significant amounts of organic matter, such as found in straw or manure.
It is also difficult to disinfect all the surfaces of granules of sand because of the myriad or surfaces containing many small cracks or holes. We see a similar problem with dirty colostrum or calf milk, where we expect a pasteurizer to kill 95% of pathogens, but the pathogen load is so high that even a 95% reduction leaves way too many viable organisms to ensure good calf health.
In short, disinfected manure is still manure and is not actually disinfected. We expect this miracle to happen in parlors because the protocol in the vast majority of parlors is to use a pre-dip as an udder wash. This is great if the teats are clean, either because they came in clean or the teats were wiped or washed before. As we know, that is not always the case, so dipped dirty teats are still dirty teats. That is true until the liners do a great job of washing everything off into the milk or into the streak canal of the teats, which of course creates the problems we were trying to avoid by using the pre-dip.
The second miracle is expecting gloves to keep manure off the teats when shells, claws and hoses are covered with manure. Gloves are important in the milking process, and studies have shown that gloves can reduce new mastitis infections by up to 50% or achieve a reduction of bacteria on milkers’ hands by over 90%. However, if the equipment is covered in manure, and the milkers do not wash and wipe their gloves every time after attaching a unit, those gloves are very well contaminated with organisms which will transfer to anything that is touched, including teat skin, towels and dip cups.
Yes, it can be difficult to keep units clean in a busy parlor, but if everything is clean when the shift starts, periodic spraying with water is usually all one needs to do. If you have some of those new, ultralight plastic shells, and nobody takes time to scrub them after milking, after a few shifts, they often have a thick, brown film, which is loaded with just about all the environmental organisms your cows are exposed to in the barn. If everything is kept clean, units, claws and shells will not be appreciably dirtier at the end of milking than at the beginning.
The third miracle is expecting humans to behave like robots and consistently do the same procedure over and over, day after day, without some sort of feedback. If you own the dairy, the negative feedback you receive to changes in procedures might be more cases of mastitis, higher somatic cell counts, lower production or a smaller milk check. For parlor employees though, none of these may be visible, or at least not visible enough to ensure compliance.
Anyone who spends much time evaluating parlor performance will say there are almost always some failures of compliance with milking protocols in every parlor. They might be minor failures with no visible bad results, or they could be major failures resulting in significant reduction in milk harvested, reduced milk quality or impaired udder health.
Humans like to try different ways to accomplish tasks. There must always be a method that is better, easier, faster or sometimes just different enough to be attractive to try. Because one might do tasks in a parlor thousands and thousands of times in a year, and the temptation to try something different is pretty much unavoidable for most humans. Sooner or later the actual procedure has drifted to something entirely different. If nobody in management notices and offers to help correct the procedure, do not expect the procedure to magically drift back to where it is supposed to be and be prepared to accept the negative consequences. That would be a miracle.
Removing the expectation that one or more of these miracles will occur in the parlor does not involve anything fancy or high tech. No expensive equipment is needed. All one needs to do is observe what is taking place and make necessary corrections promptly. It does not cost much either. Miracles may indeed happen, just not in the parlor.
Bennett is one of four dairy veterinarians at Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center in Plainview, Minnesota. He also consults on dairy farms in other states. He and his wife, Pam, have four children. Jim can be reached at bennettnvac@gmail.com with comments or questions.