Quality Milk Production:Milking Practices and Procedures

Andrew P. Johnson

Total Herd Management Services, Inc.,
824 Woodside Drive,
Seymour, WI, USA, 54165.
E-mail to Dr. Johnson at

Take Home Messages

Milking practices are the key to quality milk production.

Quality milk production will be the key ingredient to the future dairy industry.

Milking practices must be consistent by all people milking cows. Keep it simple and always milk a clean, dry, and well stimulated teat.

Keeping cows clean, dry, and comfortable are essential ways to produce quality milk.


Quality milk production is an important part of any dairy operation. Quality milk affects the farmer's profitability every day. Producing quality milk has many positive benefits to the dairy farmer. Research has shown the importance of lowering the somatic cell count (SCC) in a herd. Each time you cut the SCC in half, their is an average increase of 0.6 kg more milk per cow per day. Thus, lowering a herds SCC from 400,000 to 100,000, increases the production of the herd by 1.3 kg per cow per day.

The dairy industry's demand for quality milk has made it easier to get the dairy farmer involved. Most dairy plants are now offering cash premiums for lower SCC milk. The farmer not only gets more milk, but a higher price as well for the better quality milk. Thus, quality milk programs will increase the profitability of the dairy farmer.

Mastitis is a very costly disease. Estimated loss per cow in the USA exceeds $175 per year. The total loss for the dairy industry is staggering and amounts to millions of dollars per year.

I always approach quality milk by looking at the "Mastitis Triangle." I want to look at the total picture which includes the cows and their environment, the man and his milking procedures, and the milking equipment and its function.

The only way one can improve milk quality is to look at the total picture. To solve a problem, one must find the cause. If one doesn't look at the total triangle, more often than not, something is overlooked and the problem is not completely solved. When investigating a mastitis situation, be sure to look at more than the SCC. Look at the amount of clinical mastitis in the herd, the milk out times, and production of the herd. Many herds have artificially low SCC because the bad cows are not going into the tank. Remember to evaluate the whole operation before determining what solution to use.

Milking Procedures

One of the most challenging parts of quality milk production is fine tuning the dairy farmers milking procedures. Milking procedures are usually over 708 responsible for mastitis in the herd. A milk time evaluation is essential to help the dairy farmer fine tune milking practices. Make sure the basics are being done before implementing too many new ideas. Many farmers are doing all the necessary steps, but not in the proper order to get the maximum benefit. Once the farmer implements proper milking habits, there is a significant improvement in milk quality.

Good milking habits are mostly common sense. These practices include having the teat clean, dry, and properly stimulated before milking. Here is the routine I have found to be the most effective in producing quality milk.

The first step is forestrip each teat three times. Forestripping is critical to the production of quality milk and fast milking times. Recent research shows that stripping the teats can yield 5 to 7% more milk. Not only is there an increase in milk yield, but there is faster milking. The dairy farmer is also more likely to identify abnormal milk. Forestripping sends the strongest signal to the cow's brain to let down her milk. Proper stimulation really pays.

After forestripping, you need to properly sanitize the teat surface. This can be done by washing with water and a udder wash or predipping. I personally find predipping is superior to any other approach. Water is the biggest enemy of the farmer. Bacteria cannot walk, but they can swim. Whenever water is used, there is a definite chance for increased environmental mastitis.

Predipping is a very effective step in mastitis control. Approximately 85% of the dairy farms in the USA are predipping at this time. The dairy farmer must always select an approved product to predip with. In order to get the biggest impact from predipping, two things must happen. The predip must cover 75% of the teat surface and the predip must stay on the teat for a minimum of 20 to 30 seconds. To get the full benefit from predipping, these two rules cannot be broken. The new step which I strongly support is the use of nitrile milking gloves. Research has shown significant decrease in bacteria numbers when gloves are worn. In Staph Aureus herds, I find the dairy farmers hands to play a significant role in transferring infection. By wearing gloves, the milking practices are just fine tuned that much more and the chances of producing quality milk is increased. I have many large and small farms using milking gloves each and every milking.

Drying the teats with individual paper or cloth towels is the most important step. Drying does more to lower SCC and reduce clinical mastitis than the other steps. The teat and teat end must be wiped clean and dry. The drying towel removes the most bacteria from the teat. Once the teat has been dried, do not touch it again with your hands.

Timing is very important to milking speed and milk yield. Recent research done in Denmark has shown the importance of timing. Ideally, the units should be attached to the teats 45 to 90 seconds after stripping. If the timing is delayed, there will be longer milking times and less milk harvested. Many farms have inadequate timing which creates over milking before milk let down. Often times parlor farms set their automation on manual until let down occurs. This is not acceptable and the solution is better timing. In parlors, I usually have the farmers work in groups of three or four cows. This helps to optimize timing and maximize cow throughput. The more cows per hour one can get through the parlor, the happier everyone will be.

The unit must be attached to the teat with as little air admission as possible. Letting in too much air is very irritating to the teats and will increase the level of environmental mastitis. Once the unit is attached, take a few seconds to properly align the unit on each cow so that the cow is milked rapidly and completely with minimum liner slip. Good unit alignment is important in both stanchion barns and parlors.

Once the unit is removed by shutting off the vacuum, the teats must be immediately dipped with teat dip. Teat dipping is still one of the most important steps. The key is that the farmer is using a quality teat dip with research data showing efficacy. Remember, it is teat dipping, not teat end dipping. Coverage is the most important part of teat dipping. A minimum of 75% of the teat must be covered with dip. The primary reason for teat dipping is to replace the milk film with a layer of germicide after milking. If the milk film is not removed, you have left food on the teats to grow more bacteria between milkings and there will be a higher incidence of environmental bacteria present. It is also important to start each milking with a clean teat dipper containing fresh dip. The teats must be adequately covered with dip to prevent mastitis. Teat sprayers have set mastitis control back 20 years because they get terrible coverage on the teats and most dip ends up in the air rather than on the teat.


Looking at the cow and her environment is the area that is most often forgotten. The environment is probably second in importance only to milking procedures. You need to look at where the cow is milked, where she is housed, and how she gets back and forth between these areas. Many mastitis problems come from the environment; keeping the cows clean, dry, and comfortable 24 hours a day is a key factor in mastitis control.Cows that are not kept clean, dry, and comfortable add to mastitis and production problems. Taking the time to walk through the barns, lots, and pastures will help you identify problem areas.

Housing must be kept clean and dry 24 hours a day. The lanes to and from the pastures or dry lots must be free of mud holes which cause many coliform problems. Managing coliform problems will stop other problems. Ventilation is critical. Winter is not the dairy farmers biggest concern, but rather controlling the environment during the heat of summer. Are cows using the stalls, is the ventilation proper, is air moving, and are the cows crowded, are all important factors to evaluate.

Keeping the cows udders clean can really reduce the level of clinical mastitis and improve milk quality. Removing udder hair and trimming or docking tails help to keep udders clean and thus lead to improved milk quality.

Docking tails keeps the cows and facilities clean. Approximately 95% of my clients have docked their cows tails and been extremely pleased. Clipping udders is probably one of the most important steps in producing quality milk. It is a forgotten step in mastitis control. The problem is no one likes clipping udders. It takes a great deal of time and the cows usually object to the procedure. My clients are now flaming the hair from the udders and this new approach takes 75% less time and the cows don't object. The farmers now flame the udders three to four times a year rather than not doing it at all.

Milking Equipment

Milking equipment is the most used and most abused equipment on any dairy farm. Veterinarians must at least understand the basic functioning of milking equipment. Unfortunately, too many dairy farmers spend needless dollars on upgrades that are not needed while the root of the problem still exists.

The milk system must be looked at from not only a mastitis stand point, but also a performance stand point. I feel milking equipment has more effect on production than it does on mastitis. A very large percentage of the milking equipment used in the USA does have a negative effect on production. Many herds see dramatic increases in production when milking systems are upgraded as well as a decrease in milking time. I find that the longer it takes to milk a cow, the less milk she will give over time. The shorter the machine time, the less chance for infection too.

The milking system needs to be properly evaluated on a regular basis. The only correct way to test a milking machine is at milking time so the cows can be tested under full load. This dynamic testing allows you to find problems that cannot be discovered any other way. Having a good independent person test your milking equipment is often best. Remember the milking machine is the most important machine on your farm so keep it well maintained and fine tuned. Don't cut any corners when it comes to milking equipment. Your dealer can help you keep your milking equipment running properly. Get on a-good scheduled program with your dealer. This is money well spent.

Bulk tank culturing is an excellent way to monitor a herd on a routine basis. Bulk tank culturing gives you a way to look at a bacterial survey of the whole herd quickly and economically and is an important part of a total farm visit. This often provides convincing support for the observations and recommendations made.

Getting involved in quality milk production is easy. All you have to do is make a commitment to get involved. An attitude for quality is an attitude for profit. With quality milk, I find the future for dairy industry is bright and the sky is the limit.

Additional Readings

Udder Health is a Management Decision

Applied Dairy Science Course - University of Alberta:
Mastitis in Dairy Cattle

Alberta Dairy Management Fact Sheet:
Staph Aureus and Bulk Tank Culturing