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Milk quality mindset

By Staff | Dec 17, 2010

To lower somatic cell counts, it’s important to determine how many problem cows are present in a dairy herd, says Dr. Leo Timms, an Iowa State University Extension dairy specialist who spoke at a recent milk quality workshop at Mark and Lori Janssen’s 100-cow dairy near Gilmore City.

GILMORE CITY -Ask dairy producers what milk quality means to them and they might list consumer trust, healthier cows, higher quality food products and more money.

All are correct, said Dr. Leo Timms, an Iowa State University Extension dairy specialist, who noted that these factors lead to one key question – how should a producer decide what a problem cow is?

“Since the No. 1 goal is to have healthy animals that produce more milk, you need to know what your somatic cell count balance looks like,” said Timms, who spoke at a recent ISU Extension milk quality workshop at Mark and Lori Janssen’s 100-cow dairy near Gilmore City. “It doesn’t matter what your averages are.”

It’s important to determine how many problem cows are present in the herd.

During periodic checks every few weeks, it’s also important to assess whether the problem cows are the same ones from the last evaluation, or whether they are new ones.

Farmers toured the Mark and Lori Janssen 100-cow dairy operation near Gilmore City during a milk quality workshop on Dec. 9. Mark Janssen, center in gray jacket, answered questions and shared strategies that have worked well on his farm.

“If you can keep your new infection rate under 8 percent, your herd is doing pretty well,” said Dr. Ed Kreykes, a veterinarian from Sanborn who spoke at the field day.

If SCC levels are high, determine if an infection is present, added Timms, who noted that there are a variety of ways to take a culture.

“While bulk tank cultures can show if infection is present, they can’t pinpoint the number of cows that are infected, which animals are infected, and whether these animals are spreading the infection. That’s why I’m still an advocate of individual cultures.”

The environment

While many farmers think about mastitis control when tackling an SCC problem, other aspects of dairy management need to be considered.

The California Mastitis Test is "inexpensive insurance" for a dairy operation, said Dr.. Leo Timms, an ISU Extension dairy specialist. He's showing a test sample to dairy producers at the Dec. 9 workshop.

“Irritation or infection makes a cow’s cell count go up and that means there’s a germ involved,” said Timms, who noted that operators of well-managed herds strive to keep SCC levels under 200,000 cells per mililiter.

“The goal is to lower the number of germs. What factors will allow the cow get more germs on her and what things will stress her and make her more vulnerable to infection?”

To answer these questions, he recommneded a series of management techniques including:

  • Air quality. Ensure that air flow levels and ventilation systems are working properly and are correctly designed for the barn.
  • Bunk nutrition. Providing sufficient feed space for each cow can go a long way towards reducing the stress levels of a herd.

A herd with lower stress levels will have better immune function, said Kreykes.

He added that ample supplies of clean water are also critical.

Dr. Ed Kreykes, a veterinarian from Sanborn, discussed the ABCs of dairy management, including air quality, bunk space and cow comfort.

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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