Testing of Plant

Milking machine testing

Dairy farmers are skilled in livestock husbandry, but knowledge and understanding of the function, maintenance and the effects on cow health and milk quality of the milking parlour are often poorly-understood. Because of this, while annual or six-monthly tests by an independent, suitably-qualified technician may be carried out, some farmers may neglect the weekly checks and maintenance resulting in poorly-maintained equipment.

Most milk buyers and farm assurance schemes are likely to stipulate a contractual minimum level of milking machine testing, but often this means an annual static test of the machine -  switched on and functioning but not actually milking - to ascertain correct vacuum levels, adequate vacuum reserve, correct pulsation and air leakage characteristics as well as a visual inspection of rubberware.

While this minimum level of testing does indeed test the most important aspects of the parlour's function, a more thorough dynamic test covers several important aspects:

  • Effective milking machine function: measuring milking time per cow, observing teat condition after milking and looking for evidence of liner slippage problems.
  • Correct milk flow through the plant: ensuring milk is carried away and not allowed to remain in cluster unit clawpieces, 'bathing' teat ends in potentially-contaminated milk.
  • Correct Automatic Cluster Remover settings: which may be identified as a reason why cows are overmilked and suffer teat damage, or undermilked leading to potential mastitis problems.
  • Cow flow and behaviour in the parlour: there may be spurious reasons why this is poor, such as small design problems or even stray electrical voltages.
  • Operator assessment: observing techniques and practices in the parlour, correcting those which may encourage pathogen spread or teat damage.
  • Correct plant cleaning function or technique: monitoring wash temperatures, flow rates, solution distribution and chemical concentrations, particularly in automatic systems.

Following the manufacturer's specifications and recommendations for parlour maintenance and servicing is essential in avoiding problems and breakdowns. Weekly operator checks can include inspecting rubberwear for splits, leaks and general overall condition, checking the oil level and the belt tension of the vacuum pump and the condition of the air filter on the regulator.