Editor's note: The following Health column appeared in the June 2014 issue of Dairy Herd Management. Columnist Mark Thomas is a veterinarian and owner of Dairy Health & Management Services, LLC and Countryside Veterinary Clinic, LLP, Lowvile, N.Y.


Producing a quality product while maintaining excellent udder health and parlor efficiency should be the goal of every dairy. There are obviously many factors that go into achieving these goals, but we must remember people hold one of the largest impacts on success or failure of these processes.

In previous columns we have discussed the importance of routine milking system evaluations and equipment upkeep. These are often the easy things to schedule and accomplish. But do we take the time to effectively train the employees who we entrust with milking and handling our cows every day?


“How” or “why”?

There is often debate whether it is important if employees understand the “why” of a procedure. Some managers work off of the “how” principle. They teach the protocol, but never give much background as to the details of “why” certain steps are done. This can be effective for some individuals, but the majority of people respond best to learning if they can also understand the “why” in addition to the “how”.

It is obviously of great importance that an employee understands the “how” of a protocol and executes it in a consistent manner. Still, protocol drift is very common, not only for employees, but at times for ourselves. If someone truly understands the “why” of a protocol, then procedural drift is much less likely to occur, as the consequences of not following the protocol (aside from being reprimanded) are obvious.

Think of when you were young and your parents taught you the importance of brushing your teeth. If you were told to “just brush your teeth because I’m telling you to do so” and you didn’t know the consequences of not brushing regularly, you would likely be less inclined to follow with consistency. But if you were told you needed to brush your teeth to prevent tooth decay and avoid long, sometimes uncomfortable hours in a dentist chair, the awareness of significant consequences would make you more likely to consistently follow the routine.

It is important to use the same approach for all aspects of the milking procedure, from cow handling to disinfecting and cleaning teats. One of the most important processes to understand is that of milk let-down. So many steps of the milking procedure can directly affect oxytocin release, and ultimately parlor efficiency and udder health.

By using Lactocorder flow meters we can demonstrate and document the effect of proper stimulation and oxytocin release on milk let-down. Milkers must understand a few basic principles:

• Sufficient stimulation of the teats (3-4 strips from each teat) is necessary to obtain oxytocin release and efficient let-down.

• The process of oxytocin release takes time. This is why we generally recommend a prep-lag time of 90-120 seconds.

• Rough handling or inadequate stimulation will limit oxytocin release and inhibit milk let-down.

If milkers understand this process, it will hopefully be obvious that a bit of extra time stimulating the cow prior to unit attachment will decrease unit on-time, rather than add time to the turn, as many milkers think. Again, these are basic concepts, but do the people doing the job really understand the cow?

There are many other examples where knowledge will empower individuals to do a better job. Taking the time to explain the processes and why we have specific protocols should lead to improved compliance in all areas of the dairy. Teach the “why”, not just the “how”.