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8 Steps to a Great Milk Routine

Michelle Schack, DVM,

Udder health is critical for overall doe health, milk production, length of productive lactation, and safety and quality of the milk. There are a number of things you can do while milking goats to maximize udder health. Somatic cell count is a measurement of the amount of inflammation in the udder. Somatic cells are inflammatory cells, and are shed normally in milk, though if inflammation or infection is present they will be shed at higher numbers. A milking routine is important for udder health and by doing these 8 steps, you will be on your way to a more productive, healthy herd.

1. Maintain the environment

Milking starts with the environment: the environment of the pen the doe lives in and the place where she is being milked. Pens should be maintained clean and well-bedded. Make sure the pens are not overstocked. If there is excessive hair on the udder, it should be clipped for cleanliness. Maintain a calm, quiet environment. When she is brought up to be milked, handle her calmly and gently. Does in milk have to have hormonal input from the hormone Oxytocin to let down their milk. This hormone is inhibited by stress, fear, or pain. Keeping the milking process a positive experience will help her milk out more quickly and completely. Consistency will help reduce stress and improve goat comfort. The milking stanchion and barn should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.

2. Pre-dip

Pre-dip is used to prevent environmental bacteria from entering the teat end during the milking process. Pre-dip is often different from post-dip – make sure you are following the manufacturer directions. Dip the teats from the end to the base with an approved pre-milking disinfectant. Ensure full coverage of each teat. If using spray, make sure the whole teat all the way around is covered, with special attention to the teat end. If using a dip cup, make sure clean dip is used to completely cover both teats. Do not dilute the teat dip. Throw out any dip leftover in your dip cup or sprayer at the end of the day.

3. Strip

“Stripping” is the process of hand-milking out at least 2-3 squirts of milk. This is the first stimulation of the teat end which sends signals to the brain to let down her milk. It also removes any milk that may have been exposed to bacteria on the outside, and allows you to check the milk for any abnormalities. Do not strip milk into your hands. A strip cup is recommended to improve accuracy of the evaluation of milk. Check the milk for flakes, cheesy chunks, blood, manure, or watery appearance. Strip while the pre-dip is still on the teat.

4. Wipe

Using a dry, single use towel (disposable or reusable), put the towel open in your open hand and fully enclose the teat, then wipe completely by twisting down gently as you wipe. The goal is the get all of the pre-dip off of the teat and dry the teat completely. Use one towel for only one doe. If the udder is wet, you can then use a towel to wipe the udder so no water drips down onto the teat. If there is manure stuck to the teat, you can wet a towel and wipe with a damp towel, but always finish wiping with a clean, dry towel.

Do not ever hang a machine or hand milk a goat that does not have CLEAN and DRY teats. Bacteria travels easily through water but not in dry air. This is why you do not need to wash the entire udder every time. The water traveling from the udder down to the teat end will bring bacteria with it. Disinfection is important, but if the udder and teats are wet, bacteria will remain. Pre-dip (especially iodine pre-dip) is a contaminant, and care must be taken to ensure it does not get into the milk.

5. Hang

The machine should be hung 60-90 seconds after she is first stripped, when her teats are clean and dry. This timing is important for milk letdown. If you hang the machine too early, she will not have let down her milk and she will take longer to milk out and less milk will be collected.

While she is being milked, pay attention to the machine. If you hear squawking, the liners may be slipping and may need to be adjusted or changed. If the milk flow slows, be ready to take the machine off. Make sure the milking equipment is maintained properly and replaced according to recommendations. Hanging the machine and monitoring the milking process is important to prevent the risk of mastitis.

6. Take off

Overmilking can cause teat end damage with is a major risk factor in developing mastitis. Most does will be milked out with a milking machine in 1-3 minutes, and by hand in 3-5 minutes. If it is taking longer than this, consult your veterinarian. When it is time to take the machine off first, be sure to first shut off the vacuum. Do not pull the machine off while the vacuum is still on. The timing and method of taking a machine off is crucial to maintaining udder health.

7. Post-dip

Dip the teats from the end to the base after milking with an approved post-milking disinfectant. Ensure full coverage of each teat. The same principles apply to post-dip methods as pre-dip.

8. Turn Out

Mastitis is often contracted immediately after milking, because during milking the teat end sphincter is relaxed and open to allow the milk to flow, and it takes about 30-120 minutes for the teat end to close up following milking. Have fresh feed and water available to the doe when she returns to her pen to encourage her to stay standing for at least 30 minutes and give that teat end time to close.

Store dips and chemicals properly and follow expiration dates. All equipment (dip cups, sprayers, milking machines, stanchions) should be cleaned between milkings. If using reusable towels, make sure you are washing them with hot water and bleach and drying at high temperatures. Wear disposable gloves and clean and disinfect your hands to reduce risk of disease transmission. Remember, does can carry bacteria and not show any clinical signs. So in order to protect you and your goats, keep your hands clean at all times!

Somatic cell count is an indicator of clinical mastitis (signs of inflammation) and subclinical mastitis (which can sometimes have no clinical signs). Therefore it is a useful indicator of udder health. Goats produce more somatic cells than cows, because the way milk is made in the caprine udder is different than the bovine. However somatic cell counts of less than 200,000 generally indicate healthy udders and somatic cell counts of over 800,000 generally indicate some level of mastitis. There are many contributing factors to udder inflammation, such as nutrition, water, disease control, vaccination, stocking density, environment, and stage of lactation. Milking routine is one way to reduce somatic cell count and maintain udder health.

Following the steps the same way every time will improve doe health and the health of the herd overall.

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