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Innovative device counters milking cluster bias on N Yorks farm

Retrofit device Lactalign has been developed after herd management software at Metcalfe Farms revealed twice as many mastitis cases in front quarters compared to rear quarters.

Lactalign, developed by JF Hudson Ltd, is a new and relatively simple retro-fit device designed to counter the often-costly impact of uneven weight and vacuum distribution of a milking cluster.

Operating in conjunction with automatic cluster removal and gently supporting the cluster, it eliminates any bias between front and rear quarters, something which may go undetected but which can be the underlying cause of many of the increased mastitis incidences in front quarters, the company says.

The durable, high-density polyurethane (HDPE) supports also help avoid liner slip and kick-offs and the consequential time and labour involved in re-attachment.

Bias identified at N Yorks farm

The product was developed after the herd management software used by Metcalfe Farms in North Yorkshire, revealed twice as many mastitis cases in front quarters compared to the rear quarters, despite the herd having below average cases overall.

The farm approached local design and agricultural engineering firm JF Hudson Ltd to help with a solution. After trials with the units on Metcalfe’s 72-point Boumatic rotary parlour had demonstrated accurately costed payback in a matter of months, the two businesses came together to patent and market Lactalign under the banner of JH and PM Solutions.

Individual and pivoted Lactalign supports at each milking point, just requiring the milking staff to raise the supports and quickly select one of three slots in which to place the long milk and pulsation tubes after attaching the cluster, depending on the profile of the cow’s udder. The ACR cord is slipped in or below the same slot, and when milking is complete and ACR activated, the retracting cord causes the Lactalign support to pivot back to its rest position.

The development has been studied independently by The Dairy Group director and milking technology national specialist Ian Ohnstad who says the widely accepted real cost of a case of mastitis is about £225 – and that does not take into account the current uplift in milk values.

Significant gains

At Metcalfe Farms, the Lactalign supports have shown a 59% reduction in liner slip, a 47% reduction in kick-offs, a 65% reduction in re-attachments and a 50% reduction in mastitis cases in front quarters.

A number of prototype units were fitted to the parlour in late 2019. Philip says milking staff did initially find raising the support and deciding in which slot to place the tubes a little “tricky” under time pressure with a cow passing every 10 seconds.

“But we have a very good team here and we engage with them in everything we do and why we do it, so they were willing to persist with it and soon were on-board with the idea and what we were trying to achieve,” he says.

“It soon became apparent after some design tweaks and modifications during the following year, that we had the concept right and the supports were physically operating in the way we needed them to, and so we then fitted them to all 72 milking points.

“We were then milking with them right through 2021 and it was clear that well within 12 months, front/rear mastitis cases had totally evened out. But the really striking thing was, when we applied a realistic cost to the support units, they had paid for themselves within three or four months. That takes into account the lost value of waste milk – and that was before the current uplift in milk prices plus the cost of antibiotics and reduced milk output from individual animals while getting back up to previous yield levels.

“We believe we have come up with something which can benefit many other farms,” says Philip.

JH and PM Solutions say the supports, costing from £150 per point, can be fitted to most types of parlour, whether rotary, rapid exit or herringbone.

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