Why does Milk quality matter beyond milk price. It can help secure your milk market and bring more money back to your business by reducing mastitis treatment costs and labour, along with milk withholding times. A healthier udder can also produce more milk.
The first step in achieving milk quality success is to know how your farm is performing. Appraise your milk quality goals. Ask yourself: How are you doing at achieving them? Is what you are doing consistent? Do you need to adapt your needs based on your herd’s performance?
If you don’t have goals, try to work with your team – including dairy equipment dealer – to document them and share with your employees.
When you establish your milk quality goals, make sure they are achievable. For example, if your intention is to try and reduce clinical mastitis rate less than 1 percent, you need to understand the cost saving reduced treatment savings and optimal milk production.
Having achievable goals is essential to understand your farm.
Milk quality key performance indicators
As you review or develop your milk quality goals, keep these industry key performance indicators (key performance indicators) in mind:
Bulk tank SCC: Develop a goal that makes sense for you and your farm, knowing the financial payback. A good goal to start with for bulk tank SCC is under 200,000 cells per millilitre. Most herds today are trying for less than 150,000.
Individual cow SCC: Track the percent of your herd under 200,000 cells per millilitre. Cows greater than 200,000 are considered sub clinically infected.
Percent clinical mastitis hospital cows: Less than 2 percent is a good goal; less than 1 percent is elite. Remember, every cow you can prevent from having a clinical case is saving you about £200.
Milking facility procedures: Define the milking routine procedures to achieve consistency in:
1 Stimulation and cleaning of cows
2 Optimal prep lag times for proper stimulation and milk let-down (goal: 90 to 120 seconds)
3 Unit alignments for proper milk harvest
4 Parlour cleaning protocols for hygienic milking
5 housing procedures for efficient cow flow to and from the milking facility
6 Clean stall beds and alleys
Once goals are reviewed or set, look at the key areas on your dairy that impact milk quality. Spring weather is unpredictable and throws a lot of inconsistencies our way. Which of these areas can you control to get consistency? How can you adapt your protocols and practices to maintain consistency?
Key areas to evaluate
Consider all housing areas including cubicle, bedded, calving pens, dry cows, heifer pens and pre-fresh pens. How clean and dry is the environment? Bedding dryness can vary greatly with changing weather. What are air quality and ventilation like? How clean are cows?
Your cows will tell you how comfortable they are in their housing. Keep in mind, at least 12 to 14 hours per day of lying time is ideal.
Consider taking swabs of the beds, use this information to assess the quality of bedding, watch and observe where the most prominent cows lie, if mastitis is an issue try to monitor the area where it is coming from.
Controlling bacteria in bedding is critical for the prevention of environmental mastitis. Keep bedding materials as dry as possible. Remember, the more time there is between adding fresh bedding, the higher the bacteria level. Well-maintained bedding can reduce bacteria exposure, prevent udder infections and reduce SCC.
Milking procedures and equipment
How clean are cow teats? How much bedding is stuck to the teats before udder prep? Are you using a pre-dip that kills your herd’s mastitis-causing organisms? Are the parlour and milking equipment clean? Have you cultured the udder towels? Are liner slips greater than 5 percent?
During milking, have a protocol in place to keep milking units clean. Dirty liner heads can put cows at risk of more mastitis. Here are some quick tips to keep milking units clean:
If using a teat scrubber make sure the team are aware if it fails, spraying water on cow’s udder without sanitation is a serious issue.
Focus on cleaning liner heads and keep the milking unit vent hole open
Keep units clean during milking and use a sanitizer hose when necessary “not just water “
Once you’ve completed a thorough review of these areas, adjust your protocols and routines to help improve your milk quality. Meet with your team to share the new goals and KPIs and determine how you all can work together to achieve them.
Communicating what’s going well and what could use some fine-tuning is essential for a team to work together to produce quality milk. Your team must be willing to make changes. Everyone involved should know their role and be willing to take ownership as you implement changes.
Set expectations by having a specific schedule of when tasks should take place – start of milking shift, start of each pen, wash time, etc. Schedules not only make everyone aware of the expectations, but they help keep the dairy running efficiently.
If you’re not already meeting with your employees regularly, consider having regular staff meetings. Meetings give your team the opportunity to communicate and have their voices heard. It also gives you the opportunity to review goals and KPIs and evaluate performance.
Remember Taking control of milk quality on your farm and having a plan to consistently manage it can result in more profitability. Work with your dealer’s milk quality and hygiene specialist to determine which milk quality evaluations can help bring more consistency to your farm H