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How I Work: A day in the life of a quality milk specialist

Katie Hohmann Browning for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 September 2016

Here’s the story of a typical day for a quality milk specialist, whose alarm clock is her daughter, Sophia, softly crying from her crib at 4:30 a.m. when she’s ready to be fed.

Katie Hohmann Browning

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I prepare for my day by packing Sophia’s items for day care, emptying the dishwasher, drinking coffee, paying bills and checking my work email. Some days I’m at home working on reports from farm visits, but today I’m on the road.

My coveralls are clean, my iPad and phone are charged, and my gas tank is full. It’s time to visit the farm.

Today, I’m conducting a milk quality evaluation on a dairy with 1,800 lactating cows. They milk three times a day in a double-24 parallel parlor and use recycled sand for bedding.

Their milking crew consists of three people for an eight-cow prep. I’m here at the request of one of our territory business managers and the farm’s veterinarian. The dairy has been experiencing a rising bulk tank somatic cell count, and they’re not sure why.

As a quality milk specialist, I help dairy managers, veterinarians and milking crews identify opportunities to improve udder health through consistent parlor routines, proper milking techniques and mastitis prevention.

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I arrive at the dairy by 9 a.m. to meet with the manager to discuss her milk quality concerns. She explains that the dairy experienced a recent increase in employee turnover. We talk about the milking times, what cow types are located in each pen and review the milking routine. She also provides me access to the dairy’s health records.

Sizing up the situation

My next step is to walk into the parlor. Before I capture any notes, I take a few minutes to observe. I’m looking at how the employees interact with the cows and each other and if they’re following the milking routine. I notice there is no posted milking routine in the parlor, so I walk to the break room.

I find one posted on the wall, but the steps do not match what the manager told me. To resolve the issue, I find the manager, and she explains to me that they changed the routine a year ago but haven’t updated the poster. I note that in my iPad.

Back in the parlor, I start collecting data including prep-routine timings, teat-end cleanliness scores and teat-end condition scores for about an hour. I move back and forth between the parlor and the freestalls to collect data for each pen of cows. There are many cows with rough teat ends.

The milking crew seems rushed as they prep the cows and attach milking units. It makes me wonder if they’re skipping steps in the milking routine when no one is around. I see this happen often on dairies, and it creates big issues. Employee training will be beneficial for this dairy.

Next, I walk out to the freestall barn for about 15 minutes, where I’m looking for cow comfort. How many cows are standing or perching versus laying down contentedly? Are the stalls clean? Are the cows clean? Are there any lame cows or cows with swollen hocks? I score the cows’ hygiene and enter the data into my iPad.

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I then walk the path the cows take to and from the parlor to determine if the alleyways are clean or layered with manure. I take photos to include in my report.

Observing without being observed

I return to the parlor without the employees seeing me and observe that they aren’t forestripping the cows....that is, until they see me standing there.

The milking routine requires the team to dip, strip, dip the first set of eight cows and return to dry the teats to attach milking units and then move to the next eight cows and repeat the steps.

The exclusion of forestripping is an issue for two reasons:

  1. The cows are not being properly stimulated for milk letdown.

    A cow milked three times per day needs at least 90 seconds from stimulation until the unit is attached in order for her body to release oxytocin and let her milk down. True stimulation is forestripping; applying pre-dip is not enough.

  2. Employees are not looking at forestripped milk for signs of clinical mastitis.

    Clinical mastitis can affect somatic cell count and overall milk quality. Untreated cases of clinical mastitis can result in lost milk, reproductive loss and early culling when not treated properly. Effective treatment must start right away so a bacteriological cure can occur.

I ask the manager if I may sit in her office and watch the employees on her computer, which streams live video from the parlor. Sure enough, when I’m not in the parlor, the employees skip forestripping.

Next, I run a parlor report from their electronic record system. The report reveals that milking units are staying on too long. Also, some pens show signs of bimodal milk flow, which is expected if the milking crew is not forestripping. A bimodal milk curve is a milk flow curve that peaks and drops back to no or low flow and then begins to flow a second time.

Upon further review of their records, I also find that the dairy is not treating as many cows for clinical mastitis as they were the previous summer. While this should be good news, I suspect they aren’t treating as many because the employees aren’t forestripping to screen for clinical mastitis.

It’s a red flag that cows with mastitis are not being identified when I see an increase in bulk milk somatic cell count and a decrease in recorded cases of clinical mastitis.

Ending one day, preparing for the next

Before I head home, I start piecing together the puzzle for this dairy’s milk quality challenges:

  • Increased bulk tank somatic cell count
  • Recent herd expansion
  • Employee turnover
  • Employees feel rushed during the milking routine, so they skip forestripping
  • Rough teat ends
  • Fewer records of clinical mastitis cases and treatments

I catch up with the manager and suggest scheduling a team meeting for next week so I can walk them through the results of the milk quality evaluation with their veterinarian.

I arrive home around 4 p.m. and catch up on emails and phone calls, looking forward to my daughter and husband arriving home. Tomorrow will be a busy day of compiling data from today’s milk quality evaluation into a presentation for the dairy. I’m excited to work with the team at this dairy to develop a plan for improving milk quality.

I lay my head on the pillow tonight with a grateful mind. I have a wonderful family and a career that allows me to help dairy producers work toward their goals of producing quality milk, raising healthy cows and achieving profitability.  end mark

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

Katie Hohmann Browning is a dairy milk specialist.

 

 

 

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