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Cow comfort key to high-quality milk, award-winning dairy producers say

Derek Nolan for Progressive Dairyman Published on 02 May 2018
SQMI milk quality award winners

During the 2017 Southeast Quality Milk Initiative Meeting, the milk quality award winners sat down in a producer panel to discuss how they achieve award-worthy quality milk in the southeastern U.S. When asked if they had to choose the one thing that has led to their milk quality success, all agreed that cow comfort was at the top of the list.

Panelists were Grandy and Rhonda Ladner of Mississippi, Daniel Payne of Georgia, Travis Larsen of Florida, Lynn and Doug Brown of Virginia, Connie and Keith Long of Kentucky and John Harrison of Tennessee.

All panelists had sand-bedded freestalls as their primary housing system, and all agreed that bed management was vital. They all used the same management style when it came to cleaning out stalls. Farmers raked at every milking to remove not only manure, but wet sand as well. Grandy Ladner explained, “Anything that can lead to bacterial growth in the stall needs to be removed to help keep cows clean and SCCs low.” Payne, Harrison, Ladner and Larsen all used recycled sand in their stalls, but all agreed dry sand is the only sand that should be added back into beds.

Humidity makes the sand harder to dry, so summer months may make adding dry sand more difficult. During the summer, the farmers found themselves adding more fresh sand and holding reclaimed sand longer to make sure all sand going into the stalls was dry. Keith Long said their stalls have a cement bottom, so when he thinks stalls are too wet or they are running into SCC problems, they can completely clean the stalls out and add new sand. He added, with agreement from the rest of the panel, “Cow comfort should not stop with where cows rest, but rather any area that will make cows happier.” Other management practices Long adopted on his farm are pushing up feed 14 times a day with a feed pusher and making sure the cows are spending no longer than 45 minutes per milking in the holding pen.

Another topic of discussion was the use of on-farm culturing. While most panelists did not use culturing to make treatment decisions, Payne said they had made this a standard protocol at their dairy. He said, "Every clinical mastitis case is cultured, and those culture results are used to make a treatment decision.”

Other producers on the panel had adopted different treatment protocols for mastitis. Harrison explained, “We wait for 24 hours before making a treatment decision, and if the cow in question does not show signs of clinical mastitis after the 24-hour period, she is not treated.” Both Doug Brown and Harrison said they cull heavily for mastitis.

“We do not treat cows for mastitis at all,” Brown said. “If cows do not clear the intramammary infection on their own, they are culled from the herd.”

Harrison’s farm adopted a two-strike system, stating that once a cow gets her second case of mastitis within a lactation, she is culled from the herd. He also said, “Treatment is not a solution to mastitis problems; prevention is the only way to be successful.”

Mastitis can be prevented by managing the three points of the mastitis triangle – environment, people and the milking process. The panelists stressed that attention to detail could not stop at the cow’s environment; all three points need to be looked at critically, and one should always strive for improvement in all areas.

If you would like more information on the Southeast Quality Milk Initiative 2017 Milk Quality Award winners, visit the initiative’s website.  end mark

Derek Nolan is a graduate research assistant at the University of Kentucky. Email Derek Nolan.

PHOTO: Panelists included from left to right: Grandy and Rhonda Ladner, Daniel Payne, Travis Larsen, Lynn and Doug Brown, Connie and Keith Long, and John Harrison. Photo provided by Derek Nolan.

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