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‘E’ is the key to improve milk quality and profitability

Francisco Rivas for Progressive Dairy Published on 06 May 2020

How can you capitalize on the profitability and production benefits of good-quality milk? Let’s check on how you can target the three “E’s” of milk quality to receive these benefits.

Environment

Environmental challenges can upset even the best of parlor management practices if cows are tracking disease and contamination into the parlor. Encourage sanitary milk collection in the parlor by following these three steps to manage the cows’ environment:

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1. Provide clean, comfortable stalls. The environment where cows are lying can set the stage for success – or failure. Cow stalls or lots should have plenty of clean, dry bedding and adequate lying space. This will prevent lactating cows from entering the parlor while overly wet or dirty and minimize the spread of disease-causing pathogens within pens.

2. Milk clean, dry cows. Cows need to be clean and dry when entering the milk parlor. Monitor the amount of organic matter and debris on the udder and clean as needed. But remember, water is an excellent vehicle for bacteria, and it can facilitate its entry into the udder. Using water in the parlor to keep milking equipment clean could be a way for cows to get wet. When possible, use a pre-milking disinfectant in the parlor to reduce contamination and the spread of disease.

3. Identify contamination potential. Do you know where your cows have been? Consider following them in and out of the parlor to identify where they may be encountering manure, dirt or water. Walk with the cows on the way into the parlor and observe what they are walking into; are their legs getting splattered with manure? Or, if their udders are dirty, this could signal that the stalls aren’t clean. Understanding where your cattle are walking will give you an idea of where they are encountering contamination. I also suggest walking with them out of the parlor to see if they are encountering a flushing lane on the way back to their stalls.

You can evaluate a cow’s environmental condition and monitor for potential challenges by setting benchmarks for udder, leg cleanliness and teat-end cleanliness. For example, if more than 15% of the individual stalls show evidence of manure contamination, you have some work to do in terms of stall cleanliness.

Employees

Your employees can have the greatest influence on dairy health and management. Are your employees set up to support your dairy’s milk quality goals? Consider these three steps:

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  1. Choose the right people. Hire employees for your barn and parlor crew who have demonstrated an ability to understand and follow your dairy’s established milking protocols. Identify potential employees by drafting interview questions that clearly define core competencies. Additionally, the right people may already be on your dairy – talk with current employees about additional opportunities for growth.

  2. Set employees up for success. Establish clear and concise expectations for your employees and provide regular retraining to make sure their skills stay sharp. Make sure to reward achievements and recognize employees who go above and beyond, such as those who take on extra responsibilities.

  3. Keep good employees around. Low employee turnover rates can be a good metric of hiring and training success, and high turnover can have a negative effect on employee morale and the dairy’s productivity. Regularly calculate your turnover rate to assess how much room you have for improvement and consider how you can incentivize good workers to stick around.

Equipment

Milking equipment touches every cow at least twice a day, yet it can be a neglected area on a dairy. Pay attention to the equipment to make sure you are working with your cows, not against them.

When evaluating a milking system, I look at the following:

Equipment cleanliness and function. Be proactive rather than reactive by regularly checking that the milking unit and milkhouse or bulk tank area are clean. “Inspect what you expect” to ensure that the equipment is working with your cows and not against them. Check the numbers on your milking equipment for accuracy and to verify cows are getting milked in the least amount of time with the least number of obstacles.

2 Teat-end vacuum and pulsation. Your goal could be for less than 15% of teat ends to have damage. You also want to watch trends in teat-end damage over time. If your damage level is increasing from one year to the next, that could warrant investigation, even if you are still below your threshold.

Look at unit on-time. Your goal should be to harvest milk efficiently while providing enough rest time. Look at how many minutes cows are milking and whether milking units are hanging on cows after milk flow has stopped. Ideally, milking units should be set for automatic removal, and your automatic take-off should start detaching after milk flow falls below 2 pounds per minute.

Put these tips to work on your dairy to receive the profitability and production benefits of good-quality milk.  end mark

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References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Francisco Rivas
  • Francisco Rivas

  • Senior Quality Milk Specialist
  • Zoetis
  • Email Francisco Rivas

Where can I start?

Environment, employees and equipment are large factors in ensuring milk quality, and managing all three can seem overwhelming. When I’m working with producers and their parlor employees, I recommend approaching milk quality improvements one step at a time. Identify the biggest area of opportunity for your dairy and start implementing changes there.

Also, plan to review metrics and benchmarks on a monthly basis, so you can track progress and identify where improvement still needs to be made to improve milk quality and dairy profitability.

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