Farmer’s idea prompts creation of award-winning device

Data on mastitis cases prompted the development of an award-winning innovation by farmer Philip Metcalfe and agricultural engineer James Hudson.

Philip Metcalfe is responsible for 1300 high-yielding Holsteins milked in a 72-point Boumatic rotary parlour at Washford Farm in Leyburn. Although the herd had a low incidence of mastitis, he noticed there were twice as many cases affecting the front quarter of the udder than the rear.

“I realised it must be something to do with the milking parlour,” Philip explains. After closer examination with a dairy consultant, he realised the cluster wasn’t sitting evenly on the udder. They believed the uneven weight was causing damage to his cows’ teats in the front quarter. “We needed something to support it evenly and spread the weight.”

Philip approached James Hudson of agricultural engineers JF Hudson Ltd who started creating a device to support the cluster. They knew the potential solution needed to be self-supporting and suitable for use with cows showing different udder heights. It also needed to be suitable for all types of milking parlours.

After several iterations the final shape was decided and nine months later Philip was using the Lactalign across the parlour. He found it kept the cluster balanced and reduced the risk of uneven weight and vacuum across the four quarters which can cause teat end damage and increase the chance of mastitis.

Within a month Philip saw a drop in mastitis cases and two years later, the results were “better than we could have expected or even hoped for,” says James Hudson. “They have paid for themselves several times over in the reduction of mastitis, but also reduced operator frustration and improved animal comfort with less liner slip, kick-offs and re-attachments. To date they have done almost three million milkings with only two parts requiring replacement.”

Made from durable high-density polyurethane hygienic plastic the Lactalign is simple to fit in the parlour, explains James. The individual Lactalign cluster supports are secured above each cluster’s pipes. Once the cluster has been attached to the cow’s udder, the Lactalign is swung into place by the milker, choosing one of three ‘notches’ to support the cluster pipes, depending on the cluster height. The ACR cord is located below the pipes or with the pipes if being supported by the lowest notch. The Lactalign automatically swings away when the ACR engages, releasing the cluster.

Lactalign has been installed in other parlours and reviewed by an independent dairy consultant Ian Ohnstad, who reported a reduction in liner slippage (59.6%), kick offs (47%) and reattachments (65%). A further study in a rapid exit parlour showed similar results. The product was also Highly Commended in The Cream Awards 2022 and won a Gold Innovation Award at LAMMA in January 2023.

“Helping farmers to maximise their operations while reducing inputs and improving cow comfort and welfare motivated us when designing the product,” said James. “It was essential to keep that in mind and come up with a simple device to provide the solution without adding extra time, labour or costs by using it.”