Barn hygiene and robotic milking

On dairy farms, udder health and claw health are closely related to barn hygiene. Clean and dry bedding reduces the risk of mastitis when the cow is resting and prevents the teats and udder to become dirty. Clean passages keep cows from bringing manure into the cubicles, allow the claws to dry and hence reduce the sensitivity for infectious claw disorders, and keep cows from slipping when walking.

Management, Cow health

Brush cleaning

With robotic milking, barn hygiene demands thorough attention constantly. In a regular milking parlor, very dirty teats and udders may be cleaned differently. However, in an automated milking system (AMS) the teat cleaning process is the same for every cow and milking. As such, teats and udders have to be clean when the cow enters the stall for milking. The precise arm movements of the Lely brush system guarantee approximately 40% more effective cleaning and stimulation of the cow’s udder compared to conventional methods. Brush cleaning enables quick and very effective tactile stimulation, which is important for optimal oxytocin release.

Relationship between hygiene and udder health

Recent Dutch research from the universities of Utrecht and Wageningen has looked at the relationship between hygiene and udder health on farms with an AMS. This study clearly shows that both bulk tank somatic cell count as well as the % of new cows with increased somatic cell count are higher when the cows are dirtier (teats, udder, thighs). 

In addition to actual barn hygiene, daily routines on the robot (cleaning of laser, teat cups and 3x daily replacing the milk filter) and cow hygiene (shaving tails, singing udders) help in maintaining an optimally working milking robot, prevent failures (and consequent problems with udder health) and achieve a good milking hygiene. Correct spraying of the teats after milking helps in achieving a lower % of new cows with increased somatic cell count. Regular checking of spraying is therefore advised.

Four ways to keep the udder clean:

1. Dry and clean cubicles; use appropriate bedding material or sand. Cubicles need to have the right size and shape for comfortable lying positions and clean udders. Clean the cubicles at least twice a day to remove manure/urine/milk/wet patches.
2. Dry and clean floors; scrape manure frequently (Lely Discovery) and apply ventilation.
3. Prevent excessive hair on tail and udder; shave or singe the hair on the udder and shave the tail preferably every three months in the summer and every eight weeks in the winter.
4. Make optimal use of the brush and disinfection possibilities of the Astronaut milking robot. Brushes need to be changed regularly.

To evaluate barn hygiene, scoring cow cleanliness is the most reliable. To evaluate the udder hygiene you can use the udder hygiene score card. Please click here for the download. The goal is to have less than 10% dirty udders.

Claw health

In addition, good claw health is crucial for successful robotic milking since the Lely system relies on free cow traffic and the willingness of the cow to visit the robot by herself. Claw diseases such as foot rot and Mortellaro’s disease will cause lameness and a reduction in the visit frequency to the milking robot. Lameness also causes irregularities in visit behavior which in turn can increase the likelihood of mastitis. Infectious claw diseases thrive in a humid, dirty environment. As such, a good ventilation of the barn and frequent scraping of the floor with an automated scraper like the Lely Discovery keep the alleys clean and dry. Regular foot bathing is also recommended (Lely Walkway). Claw health and robot visit behavior will benefit from healthy and clean cows.