Robotic milking of large dairy herds poses a challenge for collecting aseptic milk samples, especially for testing the entire herd in a short time

In the western United States we had few robotic milkers a year or so ago. We now have an increasing number of farms installing milking robots, nearly all Lely. The number of farms and number of total robots, often 10 to 20 or more per farm, grows larger with more new installations beginning every month than the month before. Our dairy herds of hundreds to thousands of cows are no longer all milked in a parlor, and collection of aseptic milk samples for culture, PCR, etc. is becoming a great challenge. Part of this relates to our weather, which includes 3 months of temperatures often > 35 C or even > 40 C, and about 4 months of cold weather, often < 0 to 5 C. The weather complicates attempts to collect milk samples from cows while locked in lockup feeding gates, which is difficult and inconvenient at any time, but worse when very hot or cold. Producers do not want to lock up cows for more than about 2 hours in the morning, and we cannot sample the entire herd or sometimes even one pen in a day. We have no answer for this yet, and a solution is greatly needed. While not common anymore, the first time we have a major contagious mastitis outbreak and we have to not only sample cows but resample at close time intervals while trying to find repeat cases, new infections, etc. in a large robot milked herd, we do not know what the solution will be.

Profile – Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson is a DVM, MS, and PhD working at Utah State University. He is a dairy extension veterinarian, faculty in the veterinary school, and the epidemiologist for the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

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