What A Turnaround! - And, YOU Are Doing It
Two years ago the milk somatic cell count (SCC) from Minnesota dairy farms was "in the tank". And that is not meant to be a pun. It is a fact. Of the top ten dairy states across the nation, Minnesota was last in milk quality. This was certainly not a very enviable position for a state known for its quality products. This concerned dairy industry people throughout the state. It was important to maintain demand nation-wide for dairy products from Minnesota. It was important for producers to understand the economic impact on their dairy operation if they had high somatic cell counts.
As a result of these concerns, Minnesota dairy producers, milk plant personnel, and many other dairy professionals got together and started an industry-wide milk quality initiative called "Quality Count$." This was developed and launched in July 2003. Now, thanks to the dedicated efforts of many people involved in the dairy business, there has been a tremendous milk quality turnaround in the state. Since the 'Quality Count$" program began, monthly SCC averages have steadily dropped every month for the past 19 months. That is impressive!! The January 2005 SCC is the lowest average for the month of January in the past 5 years. Processors indicate that 2004 was a record year in payment of milk quality premiums to dairy producers. Think of what these additional dollars on their milk checks have meant to dairy farm families. And, Minnesota producers are also getting some well deserved recognition for their efforts. Five of the top 26 National Dairy Quality Award winners in the U.S. were from Minnesota this past year. Two of the top 7 National Dairy Quality Platinum Award winners were from Minnesota. Just two years ago, no Minnesota dairy farm had ever won a National Dairy Quality Award.
What has brought about such a dramatic change? An attitude shift about milk quality is apparent in Minnesota. The saying that "attitude determines the altitude of our achievements" is true for anything we do. Research studies verify that attitude is a large factor in producing high quality milk. A study done in the Netherlands has demonstrated a significant management style difference between dairy farmers who had bulk tank somatic cell counts (BTSCC) less than 150,000 and those with BTSCC greater than 250,000. The farmers with herd BTSCC less than 150,000 were generally younger, more interested in education, better record keepers, and were more particular about keeping things clean as well as how the cows were fed and milked. The most striking difference was that these producers felt it was more important to do the job right than get it done fast.
It comes down to each and every producer doing his or her job in their own dairy operation, every day. Every bulk tank, every truck load, every milk plant that has high quality, low SCC milk means higher quality dairy products from Minnesota and higher milk premiums for the producer. How is your milk quality attitude? You can check the status of your milk quality attitude by taking the SCC risk Quiz at Quality Count$.
What can be done on your farm to reduce the SCC level? Here are two issues to think about:
- Milking routine has a
strong influence on milk quality, cow health, and
milking performance. Evidence
continues to accumulate emphasizing the importance
of pre-milking cow prep in maintaining low BTSCC.
A recent Wisconsin study (see table) indicates that
having a written standardized milking protocol, spending
time training milkers, and insisting that sufficient
time is taken to forestrip and adequately clean and
dry teat surfaces prior to milking machine attachment
is a win-win proposition. These procedures will reduce
raw milk SCC and bacteria counts, reduce the risk
of a new infections occurring during milking, and
improve milking performance (cows milked per hour).
If every dairy farm in Minnesota were to improve
pre-milking cow prep during the next year, there
will continue to be significant SCC progress made.
Influence of Milking Routine on Performance for Wisconsin Freestall Herds
Cows/hour per milker
Monthly clinical mastitis rate
Written milking protocol
Used a complete milking routine (*)
* A complete milking routine means that at a minimum, each cow was pre-dipped, forestripped, and teats were dried before milking machine attachment.
- Reducing dry cow mastitis. Minnesota DHI records indicate that over 35% of cows and heifers calve with high SCC (>200,000). Most of these infections occur during the dry period and are caused by environmental pathogens. Keeping dry cows and their environment clean and dry cannot be overemphasized. In addition, the use of internal teat sealers in conjunction with dry cow antibiotic treatment is showing great promise. Recent Midwestern studies have indicated a 40-68% reduction in the number of new infections during the dry period by using this strategy. If using teat sealers are not currently part of your dry cow program, consult with your veterinarian about implementing this strategy in your herd.
The Minnesota "Quality Count$" program goal is to reduce the average SCC to less than 300,000. Much progress has been made these past 19 months. However, we must continue our efforts, work together to reach this goal, and have the attitude that "I can make a difference on my dairy farm." Have you joined the Minnesota Milk Quality parade yet? Your cooperation and participation is important for the future of Minnesota's dairy industry. "Quality Count$" fact sheets are available at www.extension.umn.edu/dairy or from any University of Minnesota Dairy Team member.
Published in Dairy Star February 26, 2005