Teaching through seeing: Using a simulator to teach milking equipment analysis

It’s Monday, and the first call on the dairy practitioner’s list is to visit the farm down the road that needs help diagnosing a milk quality problem. Is the problem related to cow health or maybe a problem with the milking system?

Teaching veterinary students what is abnormal and normal when it comes to cow health and production is what Dr. Pat Gorden, Clinical Professor at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, does every day. It’s a short drive in the veterinary truck to the dairy barn where the students can spend hours observing cows and learning about production medicine and herd health.

But how do you teach students the different scenarios where a milking system can malfunction and affect the milk quality and production?  Easy. Gorden and the students walk across the street to a building that houses a milking simulator.

But 10 years ago, the milking simulator didn’t exist. With some sweat equity, donated equipment and a passion for teaching, Gorden built a freestanding milking system with its own vacuum pump and lines, and four milking stalls. He used as much glass and clear PVC as possible when building the system so students could visualize how fluid (water) runs through it.

The unique design allows students to watch the flow of the water and trace it back. It also allows students to see the effects of different configurations and how they affect fluid flow. At most dairies, says Gorden, the equipment is in the basement or behind panels so a veterinarian in the milking parlor can’t see what’s happening or not happening with the system equipment. 

 “We don’t expect the students to learn how to fix a milking system,” Gorden said. “We want them to understand how the system works so they can incorporate that knowledge into their herd analysis. Knowing the basics of milking system analysis allows a veterinarian to be able to rule out a system malfunction when diagnosing a milk quality problem.”

Veterinarians, says Gorden, typically go into the milking parlor to wash their boots so they are in the right spot to see what’s going on with the system.

Most important, says Gorden, the system will allow us to improve student teaching and provide students with another service to offer their clients when they enter practice.

Video: Fourth-year veterinary students learn the basics of a milking system using the milking simulator