Tips on milking and how to prevent mastitis

Workers milking at Eldoret Polytechnic in Eldoret Uasin Gishu County. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

I am an upcoming dairy farmer eager to grow and expand my unit. I will be milking my two heifers which are due to deliver in a months’ time. I am excited at this next phase of my project and I want to hear some dos and don'ts on milking from an expert.

[Hannington Sitati, Misikhu, Bungoma County]

Congratulations Mr Sitati on this milestone. Milking is a pleasant and rewarding experience especially if done right. I will share with you key tips to get it right.

Milk safety, handling and storage

Freshly harvested milk can quickly get sour if not handled well. Being in the tropics where temperatures are high this process can occur even faster. Naturally milk will stay for two to three hours after milking without getting bad because it has an innate antibacterial substance. When not cooled to below 10 degrees centigrade, this substance is broken down and thereafter bacteria works on milk to make it go bad. Cooling the milk to below 10 degrees centigrade can extend the shelf life by up to three days. Milk spoilage can be prevented or prolonged by ensuring the milking machine or hands are washed well prior to being used to express the milk from the cow. Milk can also be treated through pasteurisation to extend its shelf live and make it safe for human consumption. Actually most countries have illegalised the sell of raw milk meaning all milk must be pasteurised before selling to the public.

Why does milk get bad?

Milk gets sour when not kept in a cold storage. What happens is that the bacteria that is present in the environment or on milk storage equipment breaks down the milk sugar (lactose) into lactic acid.  This acid is what makes the milk to become acidic and form curdles at room temperature or when heated.

Milk can be a source of human diseases

Milk offers a very good growth culture for various micro-organisms. There are many human diseases that result from consumption of milk that is contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. The common ones include brucellosis, typhoid fever and tuberculosis. The other contaminant of milk are anti-microbial residues and this has gained great importance with the current antimicrobial resistance challenge.  

For safety reasons, make sure where you will be milking your cows is clean, well-lit and ventilated. Milk normally picks any smell from the environment, and this can lower its value. You need good lighting to visually assess the milk and carry out some cowshed side quality and health checks on the milk. You will need a strip cup to check for mastitis. The flow of the milk barn should be easy to clean.

Cows that are being milked thrive under routine. Once established, such a routine should be maintained. This also helps the animal to quickly secrete the milk let down hormone – oxytocin- and hence more milk production. The feed given during milking, the time and place should be kept constant. Make sure you do the milking within five minutes. Once the milk let down hormone has been released, its effects wear off fast therefore you should maximise on the moment.

[The writer is a veterinary surgeon and head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO]

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