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The clever way to milk

Vaverage Holstein cow weighs more than 700 kg (>1,500 lbs). She can produce up to 20 times her own weight in milk in a year, and can easily deliver 50 kg of milk a day in two milkings. But this involves a good deal of effort – and not only on her part. A cow’s udder is a complex, delicate and very large organ. Even empty it might weigh 25 kg, which means that when she walks into the milking parlor to be milked she may have 50 kg (>100 lbs) of weight hanging from her body.

Unlike the milk glands of most mammals, a cow’s udder is divided internally into four separate elements – each with one teat. Milk which is produced in one gland cannot pass over to any of the other glands. The right and left sides of the udder are separated by ligament, while the front and the hind quarters are also quite separate. But conventional equipment milks the cow by treating the udder as a whole – the milk from all quarters is collected in one piece.

GEA Farm Technologies new IQ system, on the other hand, does not collect but channels the milk of the individual quarters (which is what IQ stands for) separately. This might sound obvious – but it is far from it.

A unique product

In fact, the IQ four-way milking cluster is a unique product and a world first that offers many benefits, both to the farmer and – it seems – to the cow, for whom milking is quicker and gentler than using conventional equipment. The design of the cluster means hat each of the quarters of the udder is milked out evenly. And by effectively isolating each quarter, the IQ system helps to prevent cross-contamination with milk from one teat to another teat. This helps to reduce mastitis, and can increase the cow’s productivity as well as the quality of the milk. The way in which the IQ handles the milk means that its structure is not mechanically stressed, and that its microbe content is minimized. But the IQ can also increase productivity.

On a hi-tech farm in the German town of Dorsten, the family herd of cows is milked using the IQ. What the farmer particularly appreciates is the lightness of the new cluster: “The lower weight means that it’s easier on your back.” But he also values the speed with which the cluster’s silicon liners can be fitted – “it takes half the time,” the farmer says, “which because of the number of clusters in the milking parlor, offers a real efficiency gain.” The ease of use also means that more milking clusters can be operated by a single person, and more cows milked per hour.

The IQ was launched in late summer 2009, and is already selling well in its European target markets. North America will follow in February 2010. It is valuable for even relatively small herds: one of the early users was Thérèse Dalle whose farm in the village of Villeneuve sur Fere, in the Picardy region of northern France, has a herd of 65 dairy cows. She is enthusiastic about the IQ which she says is “so easy to handle that you feel it hardly weighs a thing. That simplifies the daily work load considerably.” In fact, she says, attaching the cluster is so quick and easy that her 12-year-old son picked it up in no time.

The degree of technical innovation that the IQ represents has already been widely recognized by the dairy industry. For example, it won a silver medal at the last EuroTier in Hannover (the world's largest exhibition for professional animal husbandry) as well as the 2009 Prince Philip Award from the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, whose judging criteria included its benefits to the broad dairy sector. To top this honour, Dirk Hejnal, Segment President of GEA Farm Technologies, was presented with the award by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, himself in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London in November.