News & Advice

Milk Quality & Herd Test Results – Turning Data into Dollars

Oct 1, 2023 | Dairy, Milk Quality

For spring calving herds, calving is done and dusted, mating is just about here, and your first herd test results are in. Now is your chance to convert those milk quality data into dollars.


How can you make the most of the money you have already invested in Milk Quality?

Reviewing your first herd test results, alongside the season’s milk quality results to date, allows you to maximise the return on your investment and really get the most out of the information you already have.  Fonterra suppliers have received their Farm Insights Report for the season which includes sections outlining the opportunities associated with improving the bulk tank somatic cell count (page 13) and reducing the incidence of mastitis (and lameness) on the individual farm (page 16) giving an indication of how much money can be saved or earned by improving these metrics. Assigning your Anexa vet third party access (make sure to include ‘Farm Dairy Records and Insight’) allows us to help you review this information more easily.

Here are some ways the data can be used to shape your decisions:



  • Decide which cows to mate – It doesn’t make sense to put top-quality semen straws into chronic high cell count cows. If a cow should already be on a cull list, why breed her at all?
  • Decide which cows should produce your replacement calves – it may not work to put all the problem cows on the cull list just yet, but you know you don’t want to keep their daughters. How about running a couple of bulls in a separate mob with these girls? Or if AB is better for management reasons, consider using beef straws instead of top dairy genetics. You will still end up with milk in the vat.


Mastitis prevention

  • Milking management – use the herd test results to review and split cows into high and low somatic cell count (SCC) groups to protect your ‘clean’ cows by milking the infected ‘dirty’ herd last. This is important if you have a contagious mastitis issue in your herd and have ongoing spread of infection. If you aren’t sure about the situation in your herd, chat to your vet to plan your approach including collecting some milk samples.

Dry off review

  • Review last year’s dry off plan – did it work? The first herd test results are the best way to check how effective your drying-off strategy was. It’s likely you will need some help from us to look at the data, considering these points:
    • Did the cows treated with dry cow antibiotic therapy ‘cure’ i.e., go from having a high SCC last season to a low SCC this season?
    • Who are the chronic offenders? Cows with high SCC across more than one season should be on your cull list.
    • Which cows have picked up a new intramammary infection over the dry period or early lactation i.e., go from having a low SCC last season to a high SCC this season?

Identifying these cows now, when you can still remember what was happening when they calved, will make decision-making much more accurate when it comes to this season’s dry-off planning.



  • Decide if some of the high SCC cows should be treated now. We know that it doesn’t make sense to treat all subclinical mastitis cows (i.e., those cows with a high SCC), both from a financial point of view and from an antimicrobial resistance perspective. However, there may be some cows in the high SCC group that would benefit from antibiotic treatment. Collect some aseptically-collected milk samples from subclinical cows or book Anexa technicians to collect them for you. You will not only find out which cows have an active infection (chances are it will only be about 50% of the highest SCC cows), you will also learn which bacteria are present. Your vet can advise you on the best treatment for those cows when they report the culture results as well as provide advice on prevention and milking management depending on the types of bacteria cultured.


On-farm systems

  • Review your plans from the Milk Quality Consult you had with your vet before dry off – have you and your staff been following the plans put in place? Are any refreshers needed to keep things on track? If you can’t find your MQC report, get in touch with your local clinic and they can send you a copy.


Planning ahead

If your herd’s milk quality isn’t where you want it to be at this stage of the season, now is the time to review the systems on farm. As a rule of thumb, you can estimate your end-of-season BTSCC by doubling the BTSCC at peak lactation – are you comfortable with where your herd’s BTSCC is likely to end up?

If one of your summer strategies is putting the herd on OAD milking, then you need to be sure that your BTSCC and new infection rate have enough of a buffer to accommodate a doubling in your cell count (plus a further increase of 20%).

If you aren’t comfortable with where your herd BTSCC is at, or the farm team need a refresher, we can provide on-farm training in a range of practical techniques that will improve milk quality in your herd – teat spraying, milk sampling, rapid mastitis testing (RMT), mastitis detection and treatment protocols etc. If you want a reminder about the need to hit BTSCC targets during peak lactation, have another read of this article from a couple of years ago – Milk production is up but is cell count letting you down?

The reports from your herd tests and milk quality consult are useful tools to help you look back at what has been working well, and to look ahead as you formulate plans for your herd going into next season. If you would like any help sorting through the data, please get in touch with your Anexa vet – we are always happy to sit down for a chat to review the milk quality in your herd.


Other resources you may find useful:

Milk production is up but is cell count letting you down?

How to collect a milk sample.pdf

Milk samples – when should you send samples to the lab?

Use your first herd test to best effect


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