Dairy farm employees play a vital role in the milking parlor. They interact with cows every day, so why not take advantage of this? Interact and encourage employees to recognize six simple signs that help indicate if milking equipment is running efficiently.

Those are:

1. Correctly align liners (inflations).

2. Look for signs of overmilking or inadequate liner compression/pulsation.

3. Know the milking vacuum level.

4. Align units properly to reduce liner slips (squawks).

5. Open air vents for proper milk flow.

6. Monitor air hose condition.

For liners, align the hash marks with one another (depends on company variety). A 90-degree difference indicates a distorted shape (twisting) of the liner within the shell. Liners that are distorted (twisted) are unable to open and close correctly, and therefore may improperly milk cows. With regard to overmilking, often employees will notice signs of cow uneasiness, such as kicking at units, while milking. Vacuum in the teat cistern can be as high as 90 percent of the cluster vacuum. Inadequate liner compression (that is, the “squeezing” of the liner against the teat for massage) or inadequate pulsation also reduce blood flow from the teat. This can increase risk for teat end damage (increase the risk for mastitis) and impair milk flow.

The loss in milk vacuum can occur over time. This can be avoided if employees are aware and comprehend the milking system vacuum and can check a properly functioning gauge at the start of each milking.

Employees should have access to a functional vacuum gauge in the parlor. For liners, liner slips can occur from poor teat conformation, improperly aligned (balanced) units, unstable vacuum or liners that are unsuitable for teat size.

Train employees how to hang and balance units properly. The milking unit should be perpendicular to a cow’s udder, not hanging at an angle. Milkers also play a critical role in keeping air vents open by cleaning units. Most equipment dealers recommend changing air hoses on milking units every six months or as needed. Damage to the hose can lead to loss of vacuum in a milking system or improper pulsation. Milking parlor managers should have regular equipment checks as part of employee training.

Checks, such as making sure units are correctly aligned underneath the udder and air vents are open, can make a significant difference. One can implement this employee training over a break and it would not require a classroom lecture.

Note: Adapted from Rhyannon Moore, Michigan State University.

Dr. Kasey M. Moyes is assistant professor of nutritional immunology in the University of Maryland’s Department of Animal and Avian Sciences.