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Farmers Weekly with David Coulthurst

Halving cell counts in cows with automatic cluster system

Cell counts on a Lancashire dairy farm milking 500 cows have been halved in just eight months following a series of measures to counter both environmental and contagious mastitis.

There has been a substantial investment in a new rotary parlour at David Coulthurst’s Edenfield Farm, Goosnargh, near Preston, where more than £700,000 has been spent on a 50-point DeLaval system.

adf cluster

But backing up the benefits of the new parlour and the strict adherence to maintaining a clean environment in the cow cubicles has been the investment in an ADF automatic dipping-and-flushing system.

Previously milking up to 400 cows in a 14/28 swing-over Fullwood parlour, Mr Coulthurst’s cell counts had been at about 200,000 or more. But the herd’s expansion has provided the opportunity to employ the latest technology covering in-parlour mastitis control. The herd’s cell counts are now averaging 100,000.

“It’s very rare now that we ever tube a cow. We can go six or seven weeks and never need a tube. And since installing the system we’ve had no cows with any teat problems,” says Mr Coulthurst (pictured right).

It’s now taking just an hour and three-quarters to milk the farm’s 500 cows. With the old system the routine involved cluster washing and teat spraying, but the rotary system would have meant employing one man simply to stand at the end of the cows’ milking circuit with a teat sprayer.

David Coulthurst

“That would have been an added cost, no one would really want that job and we felt there was a better way to do it.

“The ADF system is one complete package, so we’ve got teat spraying and cluster washing combined. It’s the fact the spray is on the end of the teat before the cluster is removed and before the teat is exposed to atmospheric air that means we’re providing the cow with maximum protection,” says Mr Coulthurst.

Teats are sprayed within the head of the liner as soon as the vacuum is shut off, so that by the time the cluster is removed the teats are coated. The system then repeatedly flushes each liner so they are completely clean before going on to the next cow.

Justifying the £48,000 investment in the automatic teat dipping system, Mr Coulthurst says the cost of the labour needed to teat spray manually - which he believes would not be as effective - is only part of the saving.

“We were probably losing four cows a year through mastitis, because some cows would end up losing a quarter. That’s no longer happening.”

The pre-milking routine also uses a hand-held powered teat brush and spray. “It means teats are washed as thoroughly and as hygienically as possible,” adds Mr Coulthurst.

James Duke of ADF Milking says the system ensures every teat is consistently dipped in a timely manner. “This unique feature avoids negative pressure within the udder drawing bugs into the open teat canal. It’s the immediacy of the teat dipping that means the dip is providing protection to the teat faster than could ever be achieved manually. And liners are also sanitised after removal, which means every cow is being milked with a clean liner.”

Every clinical case of mastitis costs about £250. And for every 100,000 cells above 100,000 there’s a loss of 2-5% in milk yield.

Vet Emmie Gilpin of Beacon Vets, Garstang, has been working closely with Mr Coulthurst on controlling cell counts. “Cubicle hygiene is excellent on this farm; the cubicles are always well-bedded and kept clean and the scrapers work regularly to keep the passageways clear.

“Teat hygiene has been further improved by the new automatic dipping system, but even for milk producers who don’t have this facility, there are plenty of improvements that can be implemented to try and lower cell counts,” says Ms Gilpin.

Acknowledging the automatic system now in place was an effective control measure for contagious mastitis - principally Staph aureus. Ms Gilpin urged other dairy farmers to look at cubicle hygiene and teat preparation as principal areas for tackling environmental mastitis.

“Often one small change to the routine can make a big difference, so it’s better to work with your vet and identify the trigger point responsible and focus attention on that,” she says.