How auto-milking can help with somatic cell counts

Somatic cell counts have averaged about 155,000 cells/ml in trials of automatic milking systems at Teagasc Moorepark, and at seven ‘monitor’ farms with automatic milking.

Somatic cell counts have averaged about 155,000 cells/ml in trials of automatic milking systems at Teagasc Moorepark, and at seven ‘monitor’ farms with automatic milking, writes Stephen Cadogan.

This is the first data from Irish research and commercial farms where automatic milking (AM) and cow grazing are integrated.

The results were reported by Teagasc researcher Dr Bernadette O’Brien in the July edition of the CellCheck Newsletter produced by Animal Health Ireland.

The average SCCs of milk from the Teagasc Moorepark Research farm with automatic milking were 152,000, 100,000, and 154,000 in 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively.

The averages in the 2015 lactation of the seven ‘monitor’ farms were 136,000, 132,000, 211,000, 156,000, 242,000, 156,000, and 118,000 cells/ml.

Dr O’Brien said concerns were raised regarding udder health and SCC in the 1990s, in the early years of automatic milking systems.

However, further studies showed that automatic milking did not increase SCC or the incidence of intra-mammary infections, if a good standard of cow udder health and herd management was in place from the commencement of the lactation.

A subsequent Danish study showed a slight increase in SCC during the initial three-month period after installation of AM, but no differences in SCC were observed when 12-month periods before and after installation were compared, and no increase in clinical mastitis was detected.

In automatic milking, cows volunteer themselves for milking, and some studies showed that cows with longer milking intervals (over 15 hours) were at higher risk of mastitis.

Conversely, a previous study found short intervals between milking had adverse effects on teat-end condition, and that teat recovery could take up to eight hours after milking.

An SCC study was reported in 2011 from 151 farms, concluding that while variation in milking interval was more important than the milking interval itself, and only a limited association with SCC could be established.

And with automatic milking, teat cups are detached from the individual teat as soon as the milk flow reaches a predetermined level, thereby reducing over-milking. Modern automatic milking units have sensors for milk quality control, including detection of mastitis.

The average herd SCC, and detailed information about individual cow udder health, can be observed.

This shows development of udder health over time, helping the farmer make appropriate decisions.

Practical observation at Teagasc Moorepark indicated a number of factors in automatic milking that may assist in maintaining good SCC levels, such as:

- careful and consistent cleaning of teats before cluster attachment;

- no overmilking;

- cleaning of clusters between cow milkings, which ensures a clean cluster and liner for each cow;

- careful and consistent post-milking teat disinfection;

- continuous monitoring of individual cow data, and prompt action when SCC levels start to increase.

Dr O’Brien said the role of a competent herdsman is not in any way diminished with automatic milking.

“Careful observation of the cows, and knowledge of how to use all of the data gathered from the system, are critically important in AM systems.”

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