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Optimising the application of Automatic Milking Systems

Automatic Milking Systems can help improve the quality of life of Europe's diary farmers. These systems require a fresh approach to dairy management and European research is helping define it.
Optimising the application of Automatic Milking Systems
Automatic Milking Systems (AMS) can optimise milking frequency to increase overall yield while at the same time reducing the amount of human labour required. Research supported by the Life Quality Programme is ensuring that the introduction of AMS in Europe is done in the safest way possible.

Hygiene is a crucial issue when it comes to milking in general, whether done by hand or by AMS. Keeping the cows' teats clean is of utmost importance to maintaining low levels of bacteria, such as coliform, in the raw milk. All major market brands of teat cleaning mechanisms for AMS were tested in the framework of the Automatic Milking project.

It was found that some brands are not as good as others and therefore need to be improved. Furthermore, even efficient cleaning mechanisms failed when employed by farmers with less proactive attitudes towards farm cleanliness and animal hygiene. Based on the data gathered, recommendations to decrease contamination include regular changing of the teat cleaning devices and animal bedding materials, higher milking frequency and reduced animal crowding.

One of the most common effects of improper hygiene management in cows is mastitis, an inflammation of the cow's udder caused by infection. Mastitis in cows is treated with a variety of antibiotics. If care is not taken, small yet significant amounts of these drugs can be passed into the raw milk. The German Federal Research Centre for Nutrition and Food set up a number of controlled experiments to examine the effect of milking frequency and drug type on antibiotic residue levels in bulk tank milk.

The researchers discovered that increasing the milking frequency, which is easy to do with AMS but not with manual systems, helped reduce antibiotic residue. Another measure to keep levels below the Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) set by 2377/90/EEC is proper cleaning of the equipment between animals in order to reduce cross-contamination

The results of Automatic Milking will be beneficial to dairy managers and consultants. This research could guarantee that AMS is implemented as safely and efficiently as possible. Some of the information will also be of use to traditional dairy farmers not currently implementing AMS.

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