October 16, 2018

Use Protocols and Metrics For Milk Quality Success

 |  By: Mike Opperman

As farms grow, dairy owners move farther from day to day on farm production practices, like milking cows. With everything you have going on with managing your business, how can you be sure milk quality is where it needs to be?

Producing quality milk starts by making sure that parlor protocols are in place and being followed. Metrics that incorporate somatic cell data (SCC)—the most important milk quality data point—will show how well procedures are being followed.

Start with employee training. “First make sure standard operating procedures and protocols exist, then make sure they are explained well,” says Dr. Leo Timms, animal science professor and milk quality expert at Iowa State University. “People in the parlor need to understand not only what to do but why it’s important to follow procedures.”

The shortage of labor makes training and retraining more critical. Compliance to procedures becomes an issue when employee turnover is high and experience is low. “It’s difficult to maintain compliance when you don’t have a dedicated workforce that understands the importance of a routine and the value of it,” says Linda Tikofsky, DVM, professional services veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica.  

Metrics that focus on milk quality outcomes are one way to identify if proper procedures are being followed. Gary Neubauer, DVM, senior manager of dairy technical services with Zoetis, says understanding outcomes such as new infection rate, chronic infection rate, first test linear scores, dry cow cure rates and relapse rates indicate how well procedures are being followed in the parlor and in the barn. If any of these indicators are trending lower, he says it’s time to look at procedural drift.

“Dairies should have at a minimum quarterly training sessions to address protocol drift,” Neubauer says.

Taking an active role in monitoring milk quality also means being visible in the parlor. “Some of the best managers that I’ve seen, spend time in the parlor to supervise or even take a shift,” Tikofsky says. “It shows you are as dedicated as they are to what goes on in the parlor.”

Being in the parlor has dual advantages if the owner isn’t just there to reprimand employees, says Timms. “Owners should take the opportunity to reinforce both the things that are going well and to provide input on what needs to be fixed,” he says. “It’s also an opportunity to reinforce the parlor manager’s ability and knowledge basis with his direct reports.”

Timms also offers a reminder that there are other aspects to milk quality and SCC that happen outside of the parlor. “We tend to blame the milker for everything related to milk quality, but that’s not the case,” he says.

Some of the non-parlor milk quality metrics include bedding dry matter and hygiene scores. “Wet bedding and dirty cows lead to bacterial exposure of the teat ends,” says Neubauer. “That leads to intra mammary infections with increased SCC, then clinical mastitis.”