Just because you perform regular maintenance on your milking system, such as rebuilding pulsators, it does not mean that a routine system evaluation is unnecessary. Your milking system is a vital part of your operation and is used two to four times per day (or continuously in some herds), 365 days each year. But it often gets less preventative maintenance than tractors or other equipment.

A few weeks ago, I performed a routine milking system evaluation on a double-12 parlor. The pulsators had just been rebuilt about three weeks prior. So, we shouldn’t have found any issues with the pulsators, right? Well, 12 of the 24 pulsators had significant irregularities in the cycle. It was determined that the coils were damaged from excessive wear. Despite routine replacement of some of the parts with a re-build kit, the pulsators were still malfunctioning.

Put it on your schedule
A complete milking system evaluation should be performed as part of any scheduled maintenance program and whenever there is an equipment modification to the system. It is also important to do a complete evaluation in a new start-up system. Just because everything is new does not mean that the equipment is functioning properly or does not need to be adjusted.

Use proper procedures
So, what needs to be done? The National Mastitis Council has a documented process for the evaluation of milking systems. Any individual who performs a system evaluation should be using this procedure and these guidelines. It is also important to perform both milking time and “dry” tests. There are certain tests, such as teat-end vacuum, that realistically can only be performed under full milk load. Other tests require the system to be shut down and restarted, so we can’t do those during milking.

Perform a complete check
Often, I see certain spot-check tests performed without a complete evaluation. These checks can be useful, but a complete system evaluation should be performed at least twice each year and more frequently in larger operations. If no testing is performed during milking, then a complete evaluation has not been performed.

Additionally, this is an excellent time to evaluate other
aspects, such as automatic take-off settings, milker routines
and procedures, and system cleanliness. If you don’t take
the time to perform some of these checks, issues will likely
not be found and corrected. Keep in mind that the relationship
between the milking system, the milker and the cow
is what allows for an efficient routine.

Follow up on results
If any problems are found, then a follow-up evaluation should be performed to make sure everything is corrected. I have seen issues where a piece of equipment was repaired or replaced, but that, in turn, affected the function of another aspect of the system. An excellent example of this is the repair of system vacuum leaks affecting teat-end vacuum.

If potential areas for improvement are found in the routine, then it may be beneficial to perform a more complete parlor evaluation with the use of a Lactocorder milk flow meter. This device allows us to every accurately evaluate prep-lag times, milk letdown and automatic take-off function. The graphic presentation of these data also provides an excellent visual tool for milker-training programs.

The end result of a system evaluation is often improved milking performance, improved milk quality and improved cleaning performance. Don’t overlook opportunities to finetune your milking equipment and routine.

Mark J. Thomas is a veterinarian and partner in Countryside Veterinary Clinic, LLP in Lowville, N.Y.