Unsuccessful milkings (cause and management)

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Incomplete or failed milkings are commonly referred to as unsuccessful milkings. These events are caused by either a failure to attach milking cups or as a result of premature cup removal on one or more teats. This causes milk to remain in the udder, with potential negative effects on milk quality, production and animal health and wellbeing. It will also impact robot performance as usually the cow will either have the cups re-attached or will have to come in again for a second attempt (usually the cow gains milking permission either immediately or shortly after in order to avoid a long milking interval).

Unsuccessful milkings are therefore often monitored and benchmarked by farmers as a measure of on-farm system performance, The target benchmark for unsuccessful milkings should be <10% with best practice of <5%.

In general, unsuccessful milkings can be caused by:

  • Cow factors (such as milking interval, behaviour, temperament, training, udder shape, teat positions and teat visibility related to hair, mud or tail, previous experiences);
  • Equipment factors (such as camera and lens cleanliness, vacuum and pulsation levels and take off levels, stray voltage)

The AMS KPI Project monitors AMS farms on a monthly basis and provides a benchmarking tool for farmers wishing to compare key performance indicators such as milk production, system utilisation and farm demographics. The information generated can identify inefficiencies and provide options for system improvement.

Data collected during the first 2 years of the AMS KPI Project (2015-17), showed the average incidence of unsuccessful milkings (at a farm level) at 8.6% (range 2% – 18%). There was also a correlation between higher milking frequency and a higher level of incomplete milkings (particularly when above 3 milkings/d).

What are the take-home messages for AMS farmers?

  • Unsuccessful milkings can have a negative effect on cow production and health, as well as on overall system performance.
  • The overall incidence of unsuccessful milkings or failures should be monitored on a daily basis and targets set at less than 10% and ideally less than 5%.
  • Cows or robots with a higher proportion of unsuccessful milkings should be identified (particularly those cows with more than 25% of failed milkings).
  • Those cows with high failures should be separated and at least one whole milking observed to establish possible explanation (e.g.: affected quarters, temperament, udder conformation, hairy or dirty udders). Different causes should be addressed in different ways (which might include culling some of the repeated offenders).
  • Milking frequency should be aligned with milk production at an individual cow and at a herd level. If milk production is not particularly high (e.g.: below 20 kg/d), and milking frequency is high (e.g.: above 2.5 milkings/d), this might cause an increase in failures. If this is the case, then a revisit to management and settings to drop milking frequency is advised. That will allow more milk in the udder at every milking and reduce the instance of unsuccessful milkings.
  • Following an unsuccessful milking, cows should be able to access milking either immediately after or shortly after (e.g.: within 3 hours) in order to avoid a long milking interval.
  • Correct operation of the robots is crucial. Adequate service (technical support, including liner and tube replacement, pulsation and take-off levels and system settings) and maintenance (including cleanliness of the camera / lens) is very important. Please contact your equipment provider to discuss these matters.
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