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1508 PD: Ask your veterinarian how to prevent and solve milk quality issues

Norm Schuring Published on 16 October 2008

As dairy operations continue to grow and become more progressive, veterinarians have become a valuable member of the assessment team.

Producers rely on their veterinarians to help manage herd health and to prevent and treat a wide variety of production, reproductive and related problems. Veterinarians are called upon to investigate concerns, offer suggestions, develop strategies and implement on-farm money-saving protocols every day. But one area that is most often overlooked is their milk quality expertise.

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Money lost before it’s seen
When it comes to milk quality issues, the bottom line is simple: udder health problems (clinical mastitis, high somatic cell counts, teat-end health and skin conditioning, etc.) reduce productivity and profitability. Not only are there additional costs for treating mastitis, but large profits are lost in unseen milk production. If a cow is diagnosed with environmental clinical mastitis at 35 days in milk, around 2,800 pounds of milk could be lost during the lactation. This is because milk production never quite reaches its potential even after the cow is treated. At $17 per hundredweight, losses from mastitis can be as high as $476 per cow.

Lost milk and increased treatment costs of new mastitis cases require a focus on prevention rather than cure. That said, one of the experts best positioned to prevent potential udder health problems and their costly consequences is your herd veterinarian.

Be sure to take full advantage of the milk quality expertise your veterinarian is able to provide. Veterinarians regularly visit dairies experiencing a wide range of milk quality challenges both on an individual cow and total herd basis. They normally are well-informed and keep up to date on the latest herd-health trends and opportunities to manage and treat new or reoccurring health problems.

Matching veterinarian skills with dairy needs
Maximize the services of your veterinarian by focusing on the areas where his or her assistance and guidance is most needed. Here are a few areas where your veterinarian may be able to provide counsel:

• SCC is on the rise
Pathogens can be transmitted to the teats during and between milkings when the teat canal is open, especially the first two hours after milking. Consult your veterinarian and milking equipment dealer about a milking procedure evaluation. Work together to implement a standard set of procedures to ensure employees are taking every preventative measure possible.

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• New mastitis cases appear
Many mastitis flare-ups occur during the dry or transition period. Discuss dry cow therapy with your veterinarian to help reduce the incidence of mastitis in your herd. Also, talk about the possibility of starting a vaccination program or enhancing your current one to help prevent new infections and/or reoccurring ones.

• Udders can be extremely dirty
Environmental factors influence milk quality. Cows exposed to dirty or wet conditions in their housing environment allow bacteria greater opportunities to come in contact with the teat end. Maintaining clean housing areas is vital to preventing mastitis. Examine your current housing and bedding conditions and turn to your veterinarian for help if new solutions are needed to keep cows clean.

• Lame cow numbers increase
Hoof care influences cow health and milk quality. Since lame cows spend less time on their feet, they also spend less time standing at the feedbunk and watering areas. Milk production drops as a result. Cows that spend more time lying down are also at a greater risk of having their teats come into contact with bedding, especially if they lie down shortly after milking when the canal is still open. Work with your veterinarian to prescribe the appropriate hoof care solutions to treat lameness problems.

Maximizing your time with the experts
Tapping into your veterinarian as a source for milk quality expertise can be accomplished in a cost-effective manner by adhering to these simple recommendations:

• Prepare records
Have materials ready to review rather than spending time digging for information once your veterinarian arrives. If you want them to investigate a trend, have months of records available for review. Prepare a list of questions in advance. This will help to ensure that everything is covered and all questions are answered.

• Don’t make changes for one day
If you want to find solutions to your problems, it’s important for your veterinarian to inspect the dairy exactly as it runs every day. Making changes to bedding or parlor procedures when your veterinarian comes to investigate problems may cover up the real issue, making it difficult to diagnose and provide needed solutions.

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• Consult other members of your assessment team
Take advantage of the full spectrum of knowledge from all team members, asking for their advice about making a change. Work with your local dairy farm equipment dealer for additional questions about milking equipment functionality and settings to ensure proper milkout.

• Take their word for it
When you enlist the help of an outside expert, be sure to listen carefully to what they have to say. Your veterinarian, along with the entire assessment team, has your animals’ health and your business as their top priorities. They have the knowledge and experience to help you optimize protocols to improve milk quality.

Be sure to consult your veterinarian the next time you’re looking for assistance on milk quality issues. Your veterinarian has the skills and expertise to shed some light on potential problem areas and the recommended steps that need to be taken. Their education, daily interactions with a variety of dairies and continued learning can be a good match for your operation’s needs. PD

Norm Schuring
Vice President for
GEA WestfaliaSurge

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