Lactalign: Balanced clusters reduce the cost of mastitis

Lactalign supports the weight of the cluster’s pipes
Lactalign supports the weight of the cluster’s pipes.

Lactalign is a new and relatively simple retro-fit device designed to counter the often costly impact of a milking cluster’s uneven weight and vacuum distribution.

Operating in conjunction with automatic cluster removal and gently supporting the cluster, it eliminates any bias between front and rear quarters, something that may go undetected, but which can be the underlying cause of many of the increased mastitis incidences in front quarters. The durable, high-density polyurethane (HDPE) supports also help avoid liner slip and kick-offs, and the consequential time and labour involved in re-attachment.

The product was developed after the herd management software used by NMR Gold Cup winning Metcalfe Farms, in North Yorkshire, revealed twice as many mastitis cases in front quarters compared to the rear quarters, despite the herd having below-average cases overall.

The farm approached local design and agricultural engineering firm JF Hudson Ltd to help with a solution. After trials with the units on Metcalfe’s 72-point Boumatic rotary parlour had demonstrated accurately costed payback in a matter of months, the two businesses came together to patent and market Lactalign under the banner of JH and PM Solutions.

Individual and pivoted Lactalign supports at each milking point just require the milking staff to raise the supports and quickly select one of three slots in which to place the long milk and pulsation tubes after attaching the cluster, depending on the profile of the cow’s udder. The ACR cord is slipped in or below the same slot, and when milking is complete and ACR activated, the retracting cord causes the Lactalign support to pivot back to its rest position.

The development has been studied independently by The Dairy Group director and milking technology national specialist Ian Ohnstad, who said the widely accepted actual cost of a case of mastitis is about £225 – and that didn’t take into account the current uplift in milk values.

At Metcalfe Farms, the Lactalign supports have shown a 59 per cent reduction in liner slip, a 47 per cent reduction in kick-offs, a 65 per cent reduction in re-attachments and a 50 per cent reduction in mastitis cases in front quarters.

Three generously sized notches on the Lactalign allow simple adjustment to suit cluster position and easy positioning of the cluster’s pipes
Three generously sized notches on the Lactalign allow simple adjustment to suit cluster position and easy positioning of the cluster’s pipes.

A number of prototype units were fitted to the parlour in late 2019. Philip Metcalfe said milking staff initially found raising the support and deciding in which slot to place the tubes a little ‘tricky’ under time pressure with a cow passing every 10 seconds.

“But we’ve a very good team here, and we engage with them in everything we do and why we do it, so they were willing to persist with it and soon were on board with the idea and what we were trying to achieve,” he added.

“It soon became apparent after some design tweaks and modifications during the following year that we had the concept right and the supports were physically operating in the way we needed them to, and so we then fitted them to all 72 milking points.

“We milked with them right through 2021 and it was clear that well within 12 months front/rear mastitis cases had totally evened out. But the really striking thing was, when we applied a realistic cost to the support units, they had paid for themselves within three or four months.

“That takes into account the lost value of waste milk – and that was before the current uplift in milk prices,” Mr Metclafe said, “plus the cost of antibiotics and reduced milk output from individual animals while getting back up to previous yield levels.

“We believe we have come up with something which can benefit many other farms.”

The supports, costing from £150 (correct at June 2022) per point, can be fitted to most types of parlour whether rotary, rapid exit or herringbone.