The secrets of quality milk producers

A panel of producers who averaged a herd SCC less than 100,000 talked about the key factors for their success.

What do the dairy producers say who have achieved a level of milk quality in which somatic cell count (SCC) averages less than 100,000? At the Dairyland Testing DHIA annual meeting in 2010, there a panel of five producers had that distinction: Dellar Dairy Farm of Harrisville, Double B Farms of Whittemore, Lemajru Dairy, LLC of West Branch, Rosebrugh Farms of West Branch and Victor Daniels & Sons of Standish.

This was the opportunity for others to hear their “secrets” to success. What were those secrets? What was common to them all?

First let’s talk about the diversity among these five operations in NE Michigan; they ranged in size from 40 cows to 440 cows. Some housed cows in newer barns and some worked with older barns. While most (4) bedded with sand, one used sawdust with lime. One milked three times a day while the others milked twice.

What were the common factors? These are four that I picked up on.

1.     A commitment to quality.
This is where it begins. It starts with the attitude of the owners who then instill that same attitude to all working on the farm. One said that they want their employees to want to drink the milk from the farm. That hadn’t been the case of at least one employee who came from another farm. All talked about the responsibility to the public for the milk they purchase. While premiums are nice, it is not the primary factor that drove these producers to produce quality milk. 

2.     A broad view of factors that result in health and quality.
According to these producers, “there is no silver bullet,” you have to do a lot of little things right. As one put it, “sweat the details,” meaning that the care in the barn is important and well-bedded stalls along with good manure handling matter. It also means that forage quality and good nutrition are important in the dry cow program as well as throughout the lactation. Fresh feed and clean water were cited by one producer as factors in quality milk. These producers wanted healthy cows. Somatic cell count was just one indicator of that. And of course it meant that procedures in the parlor were critically important. These herds followed standard operating procedures (SOPs) so that cows experienced consistency. Everybody did the right things the right way.

3.     Recognition that it is a total team effort.
Good communication was a key listed by these producers. If everyone on the team is not responsive and timely, then milk quality will suffer. “Instill the attitude of animal care and milk quality into everyone who touches a cow,” was how one producer put it. Identify cows with problems quickly so that that animal can be supported, monitored and if necessary, treated.

4.     Use of information to manage.
These producers were all members of DHIA and they talked about how they use the “hotsheet” to see which cows are high in SCC. At what level do they highlight cows for a closer exam? The numbers varied among the producers from any cow over 250,000 to cows greater than 400,000. One producer put it in terms of percentage of the bulk tank SCC and would check any cow with greater than 3% of the bulk tank SCC. These cows might be checked with the California Mastitis Test (CMT), have their temperature taken, maybe marked for early dry-off and were certainly monitored. Several relied heavily on milk culturing before treatment and used several different supportive treatments.

They agreed on these things and they also agreed that any producer can achieve these same levels. In fact, they put out a challenge for all producers to improve cow health and milk quality. They take pride in the product they market stand behind it 100%!

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