“To be in dairy in the next 10 to 15 years, we’ve got to be better than we are now,” says Dr. David Reid of Rocky Ridge Dairy Consulting — emphasizing how access to milk markets increasingly hinges on milk quality and talking about the simple, low-cost ways to make more and better milk — during January producer meetings in Pennsylvania and Georgia.
His experience is extensive, and he reminds his audiences that milk quality is in the little things. The difference he sees on the dairies with really good quality milk, is “attitude.”
As the marketplace expects quality milk, the quality bonuses have declined and in some cases are eliminated; but Reid pointed out how low SCC improves almost every dairy herd profitability benchmark from higher milk yield and lower costs related to animal health and labor, to even having an impact on reproduction.
“When you have less mastitis, you have better breeding,” said Reid. “Mastitis in the 30 days before and after breeding date has an especially big impact on the outcome of that breeding.”
Low-SCC herds tend to have more consistent udder preparation and more relaxed cows, according to Reid. He also emphasizes the importance of having detailed protocols that explain exactly how things should be done.
“Don’t just say ‘strip,’ define it, and remember you are doing this step to look at the milk,” he explains. “Make sure everyone knows what to look for and are not just going through the motions. Earlier detection means faster response and fewer chronic cows in the herd.”
Keeping score and providing motivation also help drive the positive attitude throughout the dairy.
“Keep the focus on the milk quality goal. Continually train and coach. Keep score so others involved can also see how they are doing. And make sure you have the right tools so everyone can do their jobs,” says Reid.
Two key things that communicate the dairy owner or manager’s attitude are 1) culling cows that are hard to work with and 2) promptly fixing equipment issues.
“For dairy producers, milking time is harvest time, and there are no shortcuts,” says Reid. To improve milk quality and quantity, Reid advised:
1) Reduce the bacteria on the teat. The new infection rate on the dairy is most directly related to this.
2) Apply the basics to achieve optimal “milkability.” Reid coined a milkability definition 30 years ago as achieving the conditions “to harvest milk quickly, gently and completely.” It still applies today.
3) Milkability is affected by cows, people and equipment. On the cow and people side, it’s cow handling, udder prep, unit attachment and unit alignment. On the equipment side, the factors are vacuum level, pulsator performance, milk hose length and diameter, unit alignment and support, liner type and condition, cluster weight, detacher settings, and regulator response.
Reid touched on these key factors in milk quality:
1) Keep cows clean, dry and comfortable.
2) Milk clean, dry, stimulated teats. Provide the training, tools and protocols to make it easy.
3) Use a quality teat dip and apply it so teats are completely covered.
4) Adjust and maintain the milking equipment on a schedule and track it; inspect hoses and units for small holes and tears.
5) Hose down the parlor as one group exits and the next group enters.
6) Take time to attach and align milking units properly.
7) Keep a broom handy in tiestalls to broom dry bedding over moist areas under the cow.
8) Singe udder hair once a month, year-round, and wear gloves for udder cleanliness.
9) Insist on calm handling of cows, this affects milk yield. Tip: Don’t walk with the cows as they enter, walk against their flow, and they will automatically walk forward in the direction you want them to go.
10) Quietly watch cows (daily monitoring). This is not “wasted time.” Also make a practice of walking the dairy on a scheduled basis with someone on your outside team.
11) Train yourself to really see, don’t overlook the obvious, but don’t allow it to keep you from seeing the big picture. Don’t become comfortable with what is abnormal.
12) Observe the milking process: are milkers squawking? Are cows flinching, stepping and kicking while units are attached? One affects the other and both affect milk quality and quantity.
13) CMT and culture and use valuable DHIA data. Know the enemy.
14) Have well-designed treatment and prevention protocols and record all mastitis treatments.
15) Cull chronically infected cows.
He shared specific prepping protocols and to perform them in a relaxed, not rushed, way, so that the prep provides 12 seconds of teat contact time. To dry the teats, he advised mimicking the rough tongue of the calf with aggressive circular motion not wiping straight down the teat.
Reid said consistency is very important. Too often, he sees udder prep that is inconsistent between different people milking the cows and sees owners/managers cutting back on system maintenance to control costs. These factors end up costing the dairy.
With so much data available today, Reid suggests making it meaningful with a score card that motivates everyone to keep getting better.
In systems with no meters, he suggested monitoring milk per cow per milking or total milk per milking, start and stop times of milking, and cows milked per stall per hour.
In systems with milk meters, look at average milking duration time per cow, average flow rate, time spent in low-flow, and first 2-minute milk.
“Milk quality is never an accident. It’s an intentional commitment,” Reid explains as he flipped through pictures asking the crowd what they “see” and pointing out the details a snapshot can reveal about management on the dairy farm.
The bottom line for Reid is to keep improving.
“Thinking whatever you are doing is the best way to do it prevents you from looking for a better way to perform a given task,” he relates. Quoting his son, Rob, about his participation in rodeos, Reid adds: “There will always be someone who wants it just as much, who practices just as hard, and will be more than willing to take the lead when you decide to quit.
So never quit improving.”
By Sherry Bunting, portions previously published in Farmshine