MAINTENANCE OF MILKING EQUIPMENT
Clell V. Bagley, D.V.M.
USU Extension Veterinarian
The milking machine (milking system equipment) receives some of the hardest use of any equipment on the dairy farm and yet is often neglected for routine maintenance. Besides long hours of use each day the milking equipment is also exposed to water, milk and chemicals as well as multiple persons using it - all of which are severely detrimental to equipment. This equipment is critical for the proper harvest and storage of the dairy farm "crop" and will function best if provided routine maintenance.
Some dairy farms are able to do much of the maintenance work themselves while others find it more economical to have a service contract with a milking equipment supplier and utilize their professional expertise. Whichever system or combination of systems you choose, it is important that each dairy have a method to get routine maintenance done in a timely manner. One of the major problems for dairies who choose to do much of the work themselves is that it is often not performed on time, may eventually be skipped altogether - and then problems and breakdowns begin to occur.
Some equipment supply companies are very easy to work with and will tailor the service contract to the needs of the individual farm. For example, they have a list of the procedures that need to be performed routinely and they will let you select the ones you will do and the ones you want them to do. They will come every month or only every six months, depending on how much the equipment is being used each day and what you want them to do. They will also charge on an hourly rate, so you are just paying for the service you actually receive. Some suppliers will even have their route man install the inflations at no extra cost when you purchase your inflations and supplies from them. This may seem like a small item but can save you labor at critical times and insure the job is done on time and correctly so you can concentrate on other important management issues.
Probably the best way to evaluate use of the milking system is by hours of use (hopefully it is not accumulating any "mileage"). Then think in terms of routine maintenance at every 500, 1500, 3000 and 6000 hours of use. Usually 1500 hours is considered equivalent to "yearly" or annual. Some supplies (like the milk filter) need to be changed at every milking. Others (such as the vacuum gauge) don't need daily care or change, but do need to be observed at every milking to detect potential problems.
Rubberware deteriorates rapidly, but is often not changed on schedule as recommended by the manufacturer. It still "looks okay" to the dairyman, so it tends to get left on longer. This is especially true with inflations because they do still look okay at the time of their expiration - and they should. But they are beginning to undergo some changes that are detectable microscopically and there is "pitting" which begins to occur. They retain milk and bacteria in these small pits in the surface and then this all begins to have a subtle effect on somatic cell count and mastitis levels. Soon the dairyman is paying an expensive price (mastitis) for the choice to use old inflations. The same principle applies to the rubber hoses which begin to crack and develop small holes in them. This does affect machine function.
Filters gradually become plugged which reduces their efficiency. Some can be washed (and should be on a regular basis); others should just be replaced on a routine schedule. Belts stretch and lose efficiency on the vacuum pump and condenser. The oil level (supply) can get too low and cause increased wear to the pump. The attachments for the milk line may loosen so it becomes "flat" instead of properly sloped for milk flow.
Some brands of pulsators are designed to be washed out periodically to maintain their function. There are also "kits" that should be used periodically to replace the parts within the pulsator which wear with time and use. The pulsators should also be checked for proper function.
The list could go on and on; there is a lot of equipment involved in milk harvest and storage. But the important point is for the dairyman to manage his operation so he has a plan and system in place to maintain all of this equipment for most efficient use. It is usually of great help and economic benefit to use the professional expertise of trained equipment personnel to assist with advice and at least some of the more complicated maintenance duties.