SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Preparing fresh heifers to transition easily and comfortably to milking is important for all dairies, and it can be critical in voluntary milking systems.
On robotic dairies, changes in udder and teat shape and size during the first two weeks after calving can affect unit attachment time, flow rate, milking efficiency, completeness and interval.
During the virtual World Ag Expo last month, Udder Comfort hosted a networking event for ‘virtual’ attendees with a panel of three dairy producers, each milking 250 to 350 cows, two of them operating robotic milking systems. They all target pre- and/or -post-fresh applications of Udder Comfort using the new Udder Comfort Battery-operated Backpack Sprayer.
The unit will be on display at the company’s booth (AF 110) during the Central Plains Dairy Expo in Sioux Falls, S.D. March 24-25.
“By doing daily applications in the closeup pen a week before calving, we can prepare cows, and especially two-year-olds. We see fewer changes in the udder during the first 10 days fresh, which reduced our fetching days 50 to 70% on first lactations. That’s huge,” says Josh Lingen of Lingen Dairy, Balaton, Minn., where five robots milk 340 cows making 90 pounds of energy-corrected milk with somatic cell counts consistently below 150,000.
For years, the Lingens applied the product with the original Udder Comfort Spray Gun in the parlor after milking. After transitioning to four robots, they began identifying fresh animals and applying it with spray bottles after they left the robot, using the parlor for fresh two-year-olds before they went to the robot barn. In 2019, they began using the manual-pump backpack to do pre-fresh applications.
Then, in 2021, after closing the parlor with the fifth robot starting up, they upgraded to the Udder Comfort Battery-operated Backpack Sprayer.
“We love the new upgrade. The application’s easier. The uniformity is great, and it’s got a lot of nice pressure behind it,” notes Josh’s brother-in-law Reed Stepp, who does many of the daily applications in the closeup pen.
“Now, with the fifth robot, the parlor is shut down, so this is all done with the backpack in closeup and fresh pens, away from the robot,” Josh explains. “Attachments are quicker because edema is gone, or very minimal, when they get the protocol before they even get to the robot barn. You can line up a big group, whether you have a fresh pen or pre-fresh pen, and it’s easy with the backpack to go down through the group and pop them with the spray.”
Chad Fredd of Westfield, N.Y. has also been testing out the new backpack. He operates Grapeview Dairy, where four robots milk 240 cows making over 80 pounds with SCC consistently below 150,000.
“There’s no disruption with this, and we’re mobile, no air cord. We can go into the middle of the barn and do it. We can use it anywhere — dry cow pen, springer pen, anywhere,” Chad reports. “The secret is getting Udder Comfort on at least the first 3 to 5 days fresh. More comfortable cows use the robot more frequently.”
He notices a difference comparing groups of cattle. “This protocol helps them train to the robot faster. It’s a great tool,” he adds.
“Now, our first-calf heifers adapt much faster to visiting the robots on their own, due to softer udders, less irritation, less stress, all of which make for happier, healthier, more productive cows with fewer problems, more milk and lower SCC,” Chad confirms.
“We love the Udder Comfort Backpack Sprayer and highly recommend it. We use it every day to apply the product to two groups: post-calving and high conductivity. We find 2x/day for 3 days is optimal for fresh cows, 5 to 7 days for fresh heifers,” Chad reports. “We get a direct and accurate application, even though our cows are not restrained in the robot facility. This backpack exceeds our expectations, delivering effective results in our robot facility — without headlocks — that are comparable to when we used to apply it standing in the pit of a parlor with the cow secured.”
Upgrading to the battery-operated backpack also makes it easier to maneuver among the cows. “We don’t have that hand pump sticking out any more, so there is no interference, and the cows are calm about it,” Chad observes.
He likes the long wand and specially-designed nozzle because it does the applications consistently and accurately without restraint.
While Josh focuses on 5 to 7 days of application pre-calving, doing only high conductivity cows in the stalls post-calving, Chad does 3 to 5 days post-calving, and starts heifers with a few applications pre-calving.
“Mastitis has been reduced by 75%,” Chad reports, noting that Udder Comfort is also a key part of his protocol for managing udder issues. “We have not used intramammary treatments for lactating cows since 2009,” he says.
During the zoom panel, Josh pulled up a graph of the past 5 years, showing his mastitis and SCC trends shrinking also. (The elevated blip in 2020 was temporary, when the fifth robot was added and the parlor shut down, followed by SCC returning lower ever since.)
“When you’ve got the data, it’s easy to see it’s the little things that add up to make the big picture better,” he confirms. “Do I still run into a high conductivity cow? Yes, but not near like before. This is another protocol to implement and to make sure you are religious about doing it. We are consistent with it because it absolutely pays.
“Heifers come in with udders full of milk, but so soft. Robot attachments are faster, milking is faster, more comfortable and complete,” Josh reports. “I can’t believe anyone’s not doing this. It really prepares 2-year-olds to adapt to milking easily and comfortably, which is really important for voluntary milking.”
Robotic milking is a different management mindset. “You are relying on a machine, and you don’t get hands-on. You need that cow to have every fighting chance and want to make sure she’s as healthy and ready as she can be, so the machine has one less thing to work through,” Josh relates. “I absolutely love this product and this backpack!”
Chuck Worden of Wormont Dairy, Cassville, N.Y., explains where to target the application: “Focusing on the bottom of the udder along the medial suspensory ligament and the sphincter muscles around the teats are the most important areas to address,” he says.
At Wormont Dairy, 300 Holsteins are milked in a parlor setup, where the protocol is implemented on post-fresh cows twice a day for 5 to 7 days.
The three dairy producers reported a cost of $7 to $10 per lactation, but also saw improved milking performance by preparing fresh udders to accept volumes of milk.
With the backpack, the time element was 10 to 15 minutes to go out and do a pen walk-through with the backpack, whether in stalls or lined up at the feedbunk. For managers checking pre-fresh or fresh groups once a day, it takes no extra time to incorporate the spray routine using the backpack during a walk-through check.
The panel of producers also reported that the battery charge lasted for multiple days through more than two-gallons worth of spraying. A rechargeable 18-volt lithium ion battery comes with the Udder Comfort Battery-operated Backpack Sprayer, and a special nozzle is installed on the wand for optimum application of the spray.
Producers across the country report that one gallon of Udder Comfort does the equivalent of 550 to 700 applications, depending on the heaviness of application. Some apply it heavier for more coverage and fewer days, others do a one-pass lighter application for more days.
With the backpack spray system, one pass, 6 inches under the udder, targets the critical area, the bottom of the udder and up a few inches.