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The objective of this study was to examine the influences of different milking practices on cow udder health in 80 large dairy herds (range 100-1100 cows) in Brandenburg, Germany. Milking practices were evaluated during one complete milking using a standardized data capture form. The somatic cell count (SCC) of all lactating cows on each farm was determined monthly by the local milk recording association 'Landeskontrollverband Brandenburg'. Factor analysis was used to investigate the relationship between the different aspects of the milking practices. The components extracted by the factor analysis were examined for their influence on the SCC of the current month (CMSCC) and the year before the visit (YASCC) using univariate analysis of variance. Three components were extracted from the milking practices. 'Reasonable use of water' was significantly related to CMSCC (P = 0.019) and YASCC (P = 0.003). It included information on the use of a hose to clean udders before milking, cleaning of the floor between groups and use of water to clean teats. 'Attention of the milkers' was also significantly associated with CMSCC (P = 0.012) and YASCC (P = 0.014). It included information on the accuracy of mastitis detection by foremilk screening and the regular use of post-milking teat and cluster disinfection. The component 'preparation routines' (method of udder cleaning and forestripping) did not significantly influence CMSCC and YASCC. These results indicate that excessive use of water in the parlour during milking time is harmful to udder health and that the consistency of procedures in the milking parlour presents significant room for improvement in large dairy herds in Brandenburg.