Are too many heifers on your farm showing up with mastitis early in that first lactation? You may want to examine your prevention strategies. A review paper that examined the effectiveness of various precalving treatments in heifers was published earlier this summer. Here are the key take-a-ways:

developing udder on a Jersey heifer
She’ll be in the parlor soon.
photo: Spirited Rose Homestead Dairy Farm
  • When the infection is caused by contagious bacteria (e.g., Streptococcus agalactiae, Staphylococcus aureus), antibiotics, teat sealants, and vaccines can improve udder health outcomes.
  • Particularly if you are considering using antimicrobial treatments, culture quarter milk so you know who the enemy is. We want to minimize the development of antibiotic resistance.
  • When environmental pathogens (e.g., Escherichia coli, non-agalactiae streptococci) are the problem, teat sealants and combination therapies are effective at reducing mastitis risk.
  • When coagulase-negative staphs (CNS) are infecting heifer udders, antibiotics, teat-sealants, and combination therapies offer the most help.
  • When employing any of these treatment options, be sure they are delivered by a well-trained person.
  • On farms with effective fly control and that minimize stress for late-gestation heifers, there may be little benefit from preventative medical treatment.

The paper: Naqvi, Nobrega, Ronksley, & Barkema. June 2018. Effectiveness of precalving treatment on postcalving udder health in nulliparous dairy heifers: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Dairy Science 101:4707-4728.

Another good resource is the National Mastitis Council’s Heifer Mastitis Prevention and Control Plan.

A cow in an automated milking unit.
All teat cups still on so far.

Swedish researchers shaved one minute off milking times in an automated milking system (robot) when they increased the setting for milk flow at take-off from 0.06 kg/min (0.13 lb/min) to 0.48 kg/min (1.06 lb/min). Well yeah, you’re thinking, of course it would. These researchers also measured milk composition, harvested milk yield, and the amount of residual milk left in the udder. And none of those things was significantly different between the take-off milk flow rates. (They also looked at a take-off flow level of 0.3 kg/min [0.66 lb/min]).

A similar study was conducted in New Zealand, where researchers looked at 0.2, 0.4, 0.6, and 0.8 kg/min (0.44, 0.88, 1.3, and 1.8 lb/min, respectively) milk flow rates for determining take-off. Here, the cows were milked in a rotary parlor, and take-off flow rates were for the unit rather than by quarter. They, too, found no differences in milk yield or milk composition.

So, you may want to check the minimum milk flow settings on your automatic takeoffs. Bumping that number up should decrease individual milking times without sacrificing milk production or altering composition. Getting cows through the robot faster is good for pounds of milk per robot. And who’s going to complain if (parlor) milking finishes a little earlier?

the articles:

Krawczel et al. 2017. Milking time and risk of over-milking can be decreased with early teat cup removal based on udder quarter milk flow without loss in milk yield. Journal of Dairy Science 100:6640–6647.

Edwards et al. 2013. Milking efficiency for grazing dairy cows can be improved by increasing automatic cluster remover thresholds without applying premilking stimulation. Journal of Dairy Science 96:3766–3773.