Charlene Shupp Espenshade
Special Sections Editor
What’s in your toolbox to monitor milk quality on the farm? Penn State Educator Amber Yutzy lead an hour-long discussion on May 30 about milk quality evaluation practices as part of the “Tools for Teams” webinar series sponsored by the Penn State Dairy Team.
Most milk quality issues start off as some form of infection or mastitis.
“It’s the most costly disease infecting the dairy industry,” Yutzy said of mastitis. It also is the leading reason for antibiotic use. It’s estimated a cow will have a loss of $121 per cow per year after treatment is completed. Other losses are extra labor, replacement costs, treatment or veterinary services.
She spoke about the two versions of mastitis — clinical cases, or the type that you can see, and subclinical, infection cases that can not be detected by the eye.
Subclinical cases are “the most costly” she says because they can go undetected for months. And, once detected, they can be harder to treat and resolve.
Also, if undetected, it can impact overall milk quality at the farm, resulting in a quality penalty from the cooperative or dairy. The penalties vary among the different dairies, she said. Milk quality bonuses could be as high as $1.20 per hundredweight. In contrast, milk quality penalties could be as high as $.90 per hundredweight. The difference between the top bonus and harshest penalty is more than $2 per hundredweight.
“You can really increase your paycheck on the farm with quality milk,” she said.
The average culling rate for Pennsylvania farms is 35 percent, but qualifies that each farm has different policies for culling cows. The mastitis culling as part of the total culling rate varies per farm. The greater challenge, she said, is many farmers will not note mastitis as a culling reason, only listing another reason. Yutzy said farmers need to notate mastitis and milk quality issues on their DHIA culling reports to get a more accurate picture of mastitis problems.
So what does mastitis cost a dairy farm? Yutzy used the data from a 300-cow dairy she consulted.
The farmer sought to increase milk production, but knew he had a somatic cell count problem. Somatic cell count was over 400,000. He had an average of 10 clinical mastitis cases per month. The farmer was culling about nine cows per year for mastitis and averaged four cow deaths due to severe mastitis.
Based on $25 milk per hundredeight, Yutzy said his losses from mastitis was more than $98,000 annually or $330 per cow. “What farmer do you know that would not want an extra $100,000? He pretty much was willing to do anything” after hearing what he was losing.
Yutzy made the farmer set goals for the farm. He wanted to reduce the somatic cell count to 200,000 and lower the number of mastitis cases, culls and deaths. And, after making several management changes, they were able to reach these goals.
Yutzy reviewed the importance of having a good milking routine at the farm and consistency among the employees. “Cows love consistency,” she said.
When working with farms, Yutzy will ask plenty of questions of producers and farm employees to better understand activities and provide effective points of improvement. She also walks through the barns, scoring the cow cleanliness. Cleanliness is often a part of her suggestions. She points out how cleaner cows mean less work during milking prep in addition to quality improvement.
Looking at cow movement, she likes to see cows that are calm. Calm cows have better milk letdown compared to cows that are upset or distressed.
“Anything that happens to that cow 30 minutes before milking can effect milk letdown,” she said.
She also discourages using the parlor to administer shots.
To evaluate milk prep and milking procedures, she uses the teat end scorecard to evaluate teat ends. Farmers want a low score. Higher scores indicate lesions, which are the result of either poor milking preparation or overmilking.
The milk filter in the milkhouse is a good indicator to milk cleanliness or mastitis. If the sock has dirt, manure, bedding or mastitis, there is a milk prep problem.
The milk quality evaluation tool for farmers is bacteria culturing for milk in the bulk tank, cloth towels, bedding and cow quarters.
She also reviewed good milking procedures and other tips for the milking parlor. She also talked about cloth towels, stressing that towels need to be disinfected as part of the cleaning process and need to be dried in a dryer. Improperly cleaned cloth towels can be a cause of mastitis.
Gloves are used during milking to “protect ourselves and the cow,” she said. When dealing with an infected cow, she said milkers need to change gloves or disinfect gloves after milking. “I don’t like seeing gloves being reused, they are cheap,” she said. They only cost about 17 cents a pair.
Another area for inspection, she suggests, is the automatic takeoffs on milking units. She said they should be inspected annually to make sure cows are not being overmilked.
One way to evaluate milking procedures is the strip yield test, Yutzy said. The strip yield test happens after a milking. A strip test is using a cup and stripping a cow until completely milked out. The goal is to have between 2 to 4 ounces of milk per quarter or about a cup of milk for the udder.
“If we are getting less than that, you are going to get damaged teat ends,” she said. If a farm is milking three times a day, the level should be closer to two cups of milk. “Wetter is preferred in a three-X herd,” she said.
Speaking about the California Mastitis Test, she said this should be used on farms. It’s a fairly inexpensive test that helps to catch subclinical tests.
She suggests using it on the third milking for fresh cows. Early detection helps with clearing up the infection more quickly. High somatic cell count testing animals from the DHIA report should also be tested.