News & Advice

Reduce losses associated with poor milk quality

Oct 21, 2015 | Dairy, Dairy Animal Health & Welfare, Farm systems, Milk Quality

Mike Denholm, Anexa Rototuna and Herd+Plus Veterinarian

Anexa FVC can provide the tools and services to help you manage milk quality in a smarter way, aiming to reduce the losses associated with poor milk quality. 
In general, to cut farm working expenses (FWE) this spring, many farmers are trying to reduce bought-in feed costs. This may be through altering feed type (high energy/protein feeds replaced with biproducts) or by simply cutting the overall dry matter bought-in. A well-managed farm will off-set a reduction in available feed by reducing the feed demand on the farm. This is usually achieved by dropping stocking rate and/or adopting once a day milking (OAD). 
Questions you should ask yourself are: 

  • Are you culling the right cows? 
  • Is your herd OAD ready? 

How can Anexa FVC vets help? 

If reducing stocking rate is a priority, are you culling the right cows? 
For example, do you select cows in the herd that have the most black marks, such as high cell count, clinical mastitis, age or a late calving date? 
Alternatively, low production cows may be a culling priority. However, in prioritising low production cows, you may overlook mid-range production cows with a repeatedly high (over 150,000) cell count. The mid-range production, high cell count cows may be having a worse effect on your bulk tank somatic cell count (BTSCC) and may be a source of contagious infection for other cows in the herd. 
Anexa FVC vets can assist you in generating culling guide lists that factor in your priorities and rank the cows based on highest offenders to the lowest. 
Proactive farmers are also factoring in milk culture results into culling decisions. We can milk sample ‘problem’ (i.e. high cell count) cows using herd test results. From here, we can identify the type of bacteria each cow is harbouring. Our main concern is often Staph aureus – a contagious bacteria that is difficult to cure. Culling these cows has a big impact on controlling BTSCC through the season. Culturing is not as expensive as it sounds. Bulk testing 20 milk samples, will cost approximately $10 + GST per sample in the Anexa FVC in-house lab. For small numbers (<10 samples), it is generally more expensive per test as they are sent to the commercial lab in Hamilton. 
When a herd goes on OAD, the BTSCC will usually double during the transition before settling down over the following 10-14 days. You can expect the bulk tank cell count to run at around 20% higher than it did prior to going OAD. Clinical cases may also flare up during this process. Identifying ‘problem’ cows early in the season is a good place to start before you consider OAD milking. If you are herd testing, identifying these cows is a simple process. If not, then identifying these cows can be tricky. Our technicians can strip the herd at milking time to identify high cell count cows if required. 
Most farms will have a herd test around November/December. This is a prime time to get on top of high cell count cows prior to summer, especially if you are planning OAD. 
In general, it is a far smoother process if the transition onto OAD milking happens while there is still feed ahead of the cows. We commonly see herds transition onto OAD 3-4 weeks too late, by which stage feed quantity and quality has declined. If done early enough, the cows are less likely to drop in production as dramatically, which should have less effect on BTSCC. Feed shortages can lead to excess stress on the cows and may compromise the immunity of the cows making them more susceptible to diseases like mastitis and Theileria. 
Economic models prove that blanket treatment of high cell count cows is not recommended. Selective treatment based on culture results is the smarter and more economical way forward for repeat offender, high cell count cows.

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