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One farm’s critical milk quality analysis

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 30 September 2016
Mike Theunis and Brandon Treichler

One day late in June, one farm did what others may be too scared to have happen. It let 20 outside individuals conduct a walk-through of the dairy to make observations related to milk quality and to troubleshoot areas for improvement.

“Having an outside set of eyes makes a real difference,” David Reid told the group as it made its way to the farm.

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Reid, from Rocky Ridge Dairy Consulting LLC, Hazel Green, Wisconsin; and Brandon Treichler, Select Milk Producers, Canyon, Texas, led the group that took part in this short course offered at the National Mastitis Council Regional Meeting in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The farm was Tinedale Dairy, operated by Mike Theunis, his parents and three brothers. They are milking 2,150 cows, getting 91 pounds of milk per cow with a somatic cell count between 200,000 and 210,000.

The main milking string is milked three times a day in a double-35 parlor, while hospital cows are milked in an older double-eight parlor. The cows are housed in naturally ventilated freestall barns with recycled sand bedding.

“This is not a broken dairy, but there is opportunity for improvement,” Treichler said.

Theunis noted his near-term goals are to milk 150 more cows in the existing facility and increase milk production per cow.

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With that information in mind, course participants were split into two groups of 10. Each group had an instructor that walked the farm with them, and they received printed records from the farm’s herd management software program.

After reviewing everything, each group gathered to share their thoughts and come up with recommendations for the farm.

First of all, the records showed there were a number of good things happening at Tinedale Dairy. A large majority of first- and second-lactation cows had a somatic cell count less than 200,000 (91 and 88 percent, respectively). Plus, the new infection rate was relatively low at 6 percent. “I tell people 7 percent or less,” Reid said.

Chronically infected cows were at 5 percent of the herd, which is pretty good for a big dairy, he noted.

The subclinical mastitis profile was consistent the past few months at 6 to 7 percent. Reid said, “To get that consistent over several months, that’s a good thing.”

In addition, the log scores for second lactation really drop, which indicates a good dry treatment program, a clean dry cow facility and good calvings.

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During the observations, it was noticed that the milkers were quiet and not yelling, squealing or whistling at the cows. They approached the first cow right away and followed the prep procedure of strip, dip, wipe and attach.

The cows were clean and their udders singed. The milking units were fairly clean, and the used filter socks weren’t bad.

With those areas going well, the group suggested four places where improvements could be made.

1. Consistency in udder preparation and parlor throughput

The main milking parlor was moving at 4.1 turns per hour, just less than the goal of at least 4.5 turns per hour. There were inconsistencies noticed in udder preparation and post-dipping that may be slowing down the parlor’s performance.

With three people milking, the number of cows each would prepare at once would vary, sometimes five, seven or more. The fluctuation in group size affects lag time from udder preparation to unit attachment. Lag times reported from the group that watched a few turns of the parlor were two minutes 30 seconds and one minute 20 seconds.

Cows waited to long to be released

In nearly every group, the cows that were done milking waited a long time for post-dip to be applied. If the post-dip was applied earlier, the cows would be released and that side filled while the opposing side was prepped and attached. This could increase the number of turns per hour.

It was also noticed that milkers could do a better job at drying the teat end prior to attachment.

2. Parlor maintenance

Based on observations, it looked like the parlor maintenance program was running fairly well; however, there were some pinched hoses that need to be trimmed or replaced.

3. Heifer program

According to Treichler, the first test log score should be less than 15 percent for first-lactation animals. The farm had 24 percent of heifers with a high score.

Heifers were housed off-site, so the group could not see them. It was recommended Theunis evaluate what might be happening with first-calf heifers. A couple of suggestions were to consider their nutrition program and fly abatement, such as mowing and killing weeds around the barns to keep flies from finding a place to rest.

4. Cow comfort

The amount of bedding in the freestalls was low. The farm had some problems with its sand recovery system. Now that it is fixed, Theunis said they are working to build the beds back up.

Records showed an increased linear score in August and September. The group said the farm could likely benefit from more cooling in the holding area, cleaning fans and checking fan placement and angles.

By welcoming third-party observers, Theunis received feedback on what is working well with milk quality on the farm. He also heard which areas could be improved, as well as how those corrections could be executed.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Mike Theunis, dairy producer, and Brandon Treichler, dairy consultant, gave a history of Tinedale Dairy and explained the structure of the on-farm short course before participants were sent off to make their observations.

PHOTO 2: It was observed that cows would stand for some time after the machines dropped before being dipped and released. Tending to them earlier would help increase parlor turns per hour. Photos by Karen Lee.

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