Milking Area Management Areas, Facilities, Chilling, Cleaning of Tanks
Risk Category 8
This is part of an 11 category program to help farmers learn to identify and manage the unique risks on their farm. This may help them to grow a food safety mindset, that may enable them to write their own food safety plans for the production of raw drinking milk. In Australia raw milk from cows for human consumption, is only allowed if you own the animal, but that doesn't stop farmers from becoming acquainted with practises that are delivery great results overseas. Farmers may need to read the introduction first before continuing on this page: Introduction to the Risk Identification and Risk Reduction Program
There is a tremendous benefit in studying the regulatory structures and guidelines of other countries who have a regulated system for the production of raw drinking milk (RDM) and raw milk cheese. There is also a tremendous benefit in listening to the experts and the pioneers in these fields. Sometimes they have pearls of wisdom so profound merely because they are experienced. One such a person is British Microbiologist Jayne Hickinbotham who work with both RDM producers and cheese producers. She has been in the industry for 38 years and recently spoke at a Raw Milk Conference. She provided UK producers with insight beyond what they were already doing in the regulated RDM systems for England & Wales and Northern Ireland. Find the link to her video and links to her papers in this article. She has a list of factors which may reduce or increase the risk of pathogen contamination in raw milk and additional information about preventative and control measures. Many of them pertain to the practices in the milking area. We encourage farmers to listen to her video and read her papers because they contain valuable information.
The milking area or milking parlour is where cows are milked and all the equipment pertaining to this activity is kept. It is a good risk reduction strategy for the milking area to be separate from the bottling room because these two areas are cleaned and sanitised in very different ways. This minimises the risk of contamination. It is best for the milking area not to be used as a thoroughfare to other areas as contaminants can be carried around on footwear or boots. All passageways and access routes for the animals should be free from accumulations of manure or mud and is best cleaned in between each milking.
Design of the milking area
If the raw milk dairy is built from scratch, it can be useful to bring in the expertise of a consultant, as it can result in the avoidance of expensive mistakes. Get it right the first time.
The dairy is best located in an area that is not likely to flood, as flooding can pose a myriad of problems to the operation. It can also be a considerable challenge to clean up, so avoid running to that scenario. Runoff from the dairy operation is best when it flows away from the area, in a controlled way, into the drainage. It is preferable for the floor to slant slightly towards the floor drain. Minimise regions around the dairy where water can pool, become muddy and stagnant. Concrete flooring and walkways are very practical. Yards, laneways, gateways and trough surrounds must be maintained to prevent boggy areas developing. There should be access to water in all the areas where water is required. Natural lighting is best, otherwise a number of strip shatterproof and waterproof diffusers can be fitted. A first aid kit should be available.
It is good risk mitigation to ensure there are no places in the roof where birds can perch, nest and contaminate the area underneath it. Also, minimise areas where rodents may like to congregate. Keep the feed given to cows during milking in a container where rodents cannot access it. Stale feed on the floor or uneaten feed from the mangers should be removed. If there is evidence or sightings of rodents or other unwanted animal activities take action on the same day.
We want to discourage any possible contamination in the milking area. We don't want it to be sterile because that would invite harmful bacteria to settle in the terrain. The milking area should just be clean and organised, because over time beneficial bacteria may settle and offer some level of natural protection in this environment, as discussed in the Farm Conditions category. Also see this article: The Terrain and the Reductionist Approach. The area tends to develops its own micro ecology because healthy, pasture-raised animals, not fed any of the strange feeds given to cows in the industrial dairy industry, are unlikely to carry pathogens in their manure. It is also useful to design all areas where liquid can pool with a free draining slope in mind. The milk pipeline system should also be designed as to maintain a slope to allow free drainage.
Non-slip mats may be required in certain areas, but care should be taken that they do not become hazards someone can trip and fall over.
Cleaning of the milking parlour
The milking parlour is washed down daily, however, it may need a scrubbing once in a while. This can be added to the Standard Operating Procedure document or to a calendar to ensure the action gets taken with some frequency. Warm water in the milking area should be available to wash hands, protective clothing and milking equipment. If there is a bin for the disposal of paper towels, used towels or other waste it is best emptied after each milking. All passageways and cubicles should be kept free from accumulations of manure or stale feed, even in between milkings.
Different equipment, cleaning and storage areas
If the dairy is a micro-dairy it may need its own area where mobile milking equipment can be cleaned, sanitised and stored between milking. A large two compartment sink will do. There is no one-size-fits-all model but this can reduce the risk of contamination. You can also build a separate washroom where the milking equipment is cleaned and stored if it serves your operation better. This can also be valuable for the larger operation, which often need to take more precautions. Some micro dairies who have a pipeline system may not need the washroom as the milking cluster can be cleaned in a bucket with disinfectant water. See the NOFA Mass Raw Milk Producers Handbook page 5-7 for guidelines on how to clean the milk buckets typically used in a mobile milking system and also the bulk tank.
To see examples of what a dairy using the mobile milking machine looks like, as often used at micro-dairies, watch the videos in the following examples: Buttercup Farm, The Calf at Foot Dairy, Smiling Tree Farm and Laura's Dairy. There is even an example of hand-milking: Ahimsa Dairy Foundation.
As an example of what a dairy looks like who converted from producing for the industrial market, to producing RDM with the pipeline system, see the videos in these examples: Pemberton Farm, Hiltonbury Jerseys and Appleby's Farm.
Glen Herud from Happy Cow Milk Co has an ethical, calf-friendly dairy in New Zealand and has been producing his milk via his mobile milking unit. This milk is currently pasteurised but in the future we may see the emergence of these for the raw dairy if quality control can be attained sufficiently. For more information see these two articles about his story:
Glen was recently asked to speak at the Sydney University Dairy Research Symposium in July 2018 and shared some rather remarkable insights, watch the video below:
It is a good risk reduction strategy to have a toilet acceptable to the size of your operation and a hand washing sink plumbed with hot and cold or warm water. Soap and single-service hand towelling are essential for staff to sanitise their hands before leaving the room.
Filtering and cooling
All the milk has to be filtered before reaching the bulk milk tank. It should also be cooled as soon as possible and an in-line plate cooler can be installed. If milk is not cooled rapidly after milking it will result in multiplication of microbes. The process of culturing will start because raw milk is a live product and will result in a milk with decreased shelf life. Consumers are quick to pick up if one dairy's milk has a longer shelf life than other's. This New Zealand dairy has a secondary cooler installed to drop the temperature to 7'C. Their raw milk is then chilled to below 4'C when it goes into the vending machine. One raw milk producer in England has two plate coolers and two filters on her in-line system; this is very easy to install. She says it takes only seconds to cool and is at 2 - 3'C as it lands in the bulk tank.
Dairy Food Safety Victoria's checklist for farmers for the production of raw milk for raw cheese making, requires milk to be cooled to 6'C within 2 hours of milking, then 5'C. Food Standards Australia New Zealand's Guide to the requirements for raw milk cheese in Standard 4.2.4 page 15 lays out the details.
In a micro-dairy, mobile milking units are often used and the filtering and cooling of milk is done differently. A large tub of ice water filled with ice cubes can be kept on hand to put the milk bottles in. This essential step halts microbial action in the milk to a degree. For more detailed information see the risk category Bottling.
There can be a vast difference in the risk profile of manure from healthy grass- and hay fed cows, and cows from intense animal agriculture fed lots of grain, silage and mixed feeds.
In the Feed risk category the risks associated with various feeds are discussed. Different feeds have a direct correlation to the risk profile of the manure. Grass- and hay fed cowpats from healthy animals are often firm, and they don't smell much; they are very valuable as fertiliser for vegetable patches because they contain heaps of beneficial microbes. Manure from intensive animal agriculture fed lots of grain are often a slurry with a revolting stench. It is not suitable fertiliser for vegetable patches because it often carries a high risk for potentially harmful pathogenic bacteria. If this harmful bacteria ends up on lettuce, those who eat it may become ill with food-borne illness.
Manure or slurry accumulation must be avoided in the milking area. Before milking each cow, any manure from the previous milking should be scraped and removed. Cows producing for the raw milk market are required to be very healthy, so we do not expect them to shed pathogens in their manure under normal circumstances. That is why the manure they leave behind in the holding pen and in the milking area is not a high risk, but at the same time it cannot be left there. The manure that builds up in the holding pen and the milking area, however, can become a risk if it is not disposed of and contained quickly and appropriately. It is best that animals not stand around in their own manure for long periods of time, or be exposed to manure when it can be removed to another secluded area.
Manure from raw dairy operations can be a valuable probiotic resource in the long term because it can contain vast amounts of good microbes. The nutrients and microbes in the manure can be recycled in ecological systems. This amazing video looks at how the manure collected in these areas are used as compost, to improve growth of pasture grasses, which sequesters carbon into the soil and makes a nutritious feed for cattle. It looks at the practises of Stemple Creek Ranch and Strauss Family Creamery in the U.S.A. Strauss Family Creamery. Strauss is a leader in organic and environmentally sustainable practices and they are rather revolutionary. They are generating electricity from the methane gas released from a digester. Albert Strauss also has a full-scale electric truck powered by cow poop.
Milking Operation Size
We are very fortunate that Organic Pastures Dairy, who is a large 500 milking cow raw milk dairy, is generous in sharing the occasional behind-the-scenes peek into their operation. We appreciate it because not everyone can afford to travel to California for a guided tour of their operation.
It is important to remember that the larger the herd size, the more need there is for detailed Standard Sanitary Operating Procedures to keep up with all the care that is required. Organic Pastures is the largest raw dairy in the United States. Kaleigh Lutz is one of the owners and in this Facebook live video she takes the online viewer through the milking area to see how the cows are prepared to be milked. She shares some fascinating tidbits as well. We have posted this here so farmers can see how a raw dairy of this scale operates. ODP has been producing raw milk for human consumption since 1999 and have had a lot of time to grow into the appropriate food safety plans for their operation size.
Warning: you may get seasick from watching the video. Click here to see a smaller sized video.
Holding pen management
Holding pens are often stressful for cows. Is there sufficient space for the cows? Remember stressed cows can produce more pathogens in their manure, so keeping them happy as best you can is a risk reduction strategy.