Evaluation of three methods to assess the degree of milk-out in dairy cows
The assessment of the completeness of milk-out in dairy cows is one of the indicators used to evaluate and optimise the milking process. A number of different methods and thresholds are available for this purpose, but procedures and validation of the methods are not always described in detail, and may vary between studies. The objective of this study was to introduce and evaluate a new, precisely defined hand-milking method (DEFINED) and to compare its outcome with two commonly applied methods to assess the completeness of milking: visual scoring of the degree of quarter filling (VISUAL) and quantitative assessment of the number of easy strips (EASYSTRIPS). Each of the three methods was applied in 131 Holstein cows of six dairy herds in northern Germany. The assessment of milk-out was carried out by three experienced but non-regular milkers (evaluators). Each evaluator visited the six herds once during afternoon milking. To avoid any transitions, the interval between visits of two evaluators was at least 2 days. Maximum hand-milking time per cow was set to 60 s. The total strip yield collected in 60 s (SY60) by the application of a strip frequency of 1 Hz was used as a reference for the amount of milk left in the investigated quarter after machine-milking. The three methods were evaluated by analysing their statistical relationship with SY60, and by ranking their suitability for quantitative or qualitative assessment of milk-out. VISUAL and SY60 were not related, indicating that VISUAL was unsuitable for estimating the amount of milk left actually in the udder quarters. The strip yield in 15 s (DEFINED) and SY60 was significantly related, but results varied among evaluators. With regard to EASYSTRIPS, a significant relationship with SY60 was found, but the results were influenced by evaluator and herd. The findings of this study imply that DEFINED allows a rapid and farm-independent quantitative estimate of the post-milking strip yield. Likewise, EASYSTRIPS was meaningful in assessing milk-out of quarters in a given herd, whereas VISUAL allowed neither a quantitative nor a qualitative assessment of post-milking strip yield or milk-out. Thresholds for complete or incomplete milk-out by DEFINED must be lower than those commonly applied in 15 s of post-milking.