Dr. Lionel H. Brazil: A Legacy remembered

Looking back at this veterinarian’s lifetime invested in herd health and innovation, we see his significant contributions to the dairy cow and the dairy industry at large.


By Ron Goble


The late Dr. Lionel H. Brazil believed the health of California’s dairy herds, especially those in Central California, directly affected the health of the entire dairy industry. He devoted his life trying to improve both.

That is still as true now as it was when he was operating the Milk Technology Laboratory at the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center in Tulare.

Many veterinary students and practitioners from around the country circulated through the laboratory and were able to appreciate firsthand his dedication and passion for milking machine performance and herd health.

The focus of his work at the lab was to ensure the health and productivity of dairies by evaluating milking equipment performance and dairy management practices with the specific purpose to minimize mastitis through improved milking management practices.

Dr. Brazil knew mastitis was extremely costly to dairy operations in terms of lost milk production and the potential for reduced economic returns for cows with a temporary or permanent yield reduction. He specifically sought to uncover management and milking equipment factors that were related to increased levels of mastitis in dairy herds.

With a background of 50-plus years in veterinary medicine and as a dairyman for 25 years, Dr. Brazil worked in milking management consulting for more than 10 years – including applied research supported by California dairymen and the California Dairy Research Foundation (CDRF).

Dr. Allan Britten was a graduate student at UCD when he first encountered Dr. Brazil, who had built his dream dairy just outside of Tulare. “I was very impressed at the time with the milking system, the calf-raising facilities, the hospital facilities, even an on-farm dairy laboratory,” Britten said. “Lionel wanted to bring his science to the dairy and run it scientifically.” 

Britten, later became a colleague of Brazil’s and talked about how his friend loved dairying and veterinary medicine from a very early time as he grew up in Tulare. Britten said Lionel shared stories about how he would ride with the local “cow doctor” even before he graduated from veterinary school and would earn “pocket money” by doing cow surgery’s for the doctor.

Britten stressed that Dr. Brazil used science to address two major challenges he had experienced in dairying. He saw excessive vacuum fluctuation in the milking machine as a major obstacle to the udder health of the herd and he saw firsthand the ravages that can be caused by Mycoplasma mastitis.

“The disease was first recognized as a major udder health threat on California dairies in the 1960s. Lionel’s cows were not spared,” recalled Britten. “He  played an active role in the early understanding of the nature of this disease and its control by working with Dr. Don Jasper and later with Dr. Bob Bushnell from UC Davis. Lionel was a coauthor on some of the early published papers in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association on this new major mastitis pathogen in 1966. Since those early published reports, the disease has been recognized in every other state in the country and also reported throughout the world.”

Britten remembered how Brazil had the idea of assembling large numbers of dairy cows into one operation, which was relatively new idea in the 1960s and ‘70s. California dairymen led the way in developing the management systems that eventually proved you could have large dairies that were economically efficient and had animal health and production statistics that were as good or better than their small herd counterparts.

Lionel was in the middle of helping develop these successful management models with his own cows and with his dairy clients. It was not always a pretty picture, said Britten, as some of these early large dairies (1,000 cows) had some spectacular mastitis outbreaks.

“Brazil recognized that cow-to-cow transmission of contagious mastitis organisms via the milking machine could be a major contributor to increased mastitis risk,” said Britten. “This led to Brazil starting Western Dairy Research, Inc., and developing the Sentinel Sanitizing System, one of the first legal backflush valves…another example of Lionel developing a milking machine component specifically designed to help reduce mastitis.

“The backflush procedure was one of the epidemiologist’s answers to stopping the spread of contagious mastitis. It was obvious and logical that when contagious mastitis infected cows were milked, they would leave high numbers of pathogens on the liner surfaces to spread to other cows…It was widely suggested that sanitizing these liner surfaces between cows should greatly reduce the transmission of dangerous organisms like Streptococcus agalactiae, Staphylococcus aureus and Mycoplasma. Most ideas for sanitizing the liners were labor intensive and  most dairymen said it was not practical.

“Lionel saw this as a professional challenge to make this process easy enough to routinely be incorporated into the milking procedure,” Britten recalled. “The Sentinel Sanitizing Valve was a legal way to temporarily separate the milking cluster from the machine while performing the sanitizing function. The one he produced and sold was a manually operated valve but it did greatly ease the process of performing this task.”

While the device saw only limited use by dairymen, Lionel’s backflush valve served as a stimulus to many of the major milking equipment manufacturers and within five years of the first automated system (in 1979), most companies marketing in the US had automatic backflush systems to offer dairymen.

Several other ideas Brazil championed to help with udder health included the development of the Sentinel Dairy Meter, a vacuum recorder that came out in 1980. The first one was an analog electronic vacuum analyzer designed to measure vacuum levels and pulsation rate and ratios. It was the precursor to the Digimet, which is a digital vacuum recorder that came out 10 years later.

“The size and sophisticated features in the device were a product of this goal to make this kind of testing easy and practical enough to do quality vacuum system evaluation on a regular basis,” Britten explained. 

National Mastitis Council (NMC), and specifically the members of the milking machine committee, saw a need to help standardize the way milking machine regulator performance was evaluated. Lionel was actively involved in the development and evaluation of test methods for system vacuum stability, particularly in the large Western dairy milking parlors. He was a coauthor on papers published in the NMC proceedings in 1995 that helped shape the guidelines. After development of variable speed drive regulators, Britten worked with Brazil on alternate testing methods that began to help quantify other aspects of regulator performance. Those ideas were presented at the Second International Symposium on Mastitis and Milk Quality in 2001.

“When Dr. Brazil was managing his dairy, he was profoundly affected by the animal suffering and economic loss associated with mastitis. There were a lot of published reports in the literature at that time about the relationship between vacuum fluctuation and infection,” said Britten.

In a newsletter report  published by CDRF, Dr. Brazil was quoted as saying he believed it was “the random or unplanned events” that contribute to increased mastitis levels. In addition, he found increased mastitis and somatic cell levels were caused by abrupt pressure changes at teat end, which propel infecting bacteria into the mammary gland during milking. 

“He set upon a course of developing the ‘ideal’ vacuum regulator. He enlisted the aid of a professional engineer to help with the design of this new regulator. This was the beginning of his major business enterprise – Western Dairy Research, Inc.

While his goal in designing the Sentinel Regulator was to “eliminate vacuum fluctuation,” he didn’t quite get that job done, Britten stated. However, the device did more than any other available to California dairymen at that time to minimize system vacuum fluctuation. Some colleagues say the Sentinel Vacuum Controller was soon acknowledged by many dairymen, veterinarians, and equipment dealers as the “gold standard” of vacuum regulation performance. 

Eventually many other manufacturers included some of the same engineering features to improve the performance of their products. 

 While he focused on mastitis throughout his storied career, Dr. Brazil and his team did research on many areas of dairy industry operations.

WDR was a well planned dairy facility of his own where he studied and monitored performance of dairy animals, feeds, feed additives, drugs, dairy equipment and management protocols.

His goal was always to improve the health, productivity and longevity of dairy animals and assist the industry in meeting the ever increasing demands and environmental limitations. 

Concerning one of his studies, Dr. Brazil wrote, “As dairies become larger, consistent monitoring of all milking equipment performance levels, product usage and milker performance…will be mandatory for high levels of success, both from reduced mastitis levels and increased productivity.”

Dr. Lionel H. Brazil was a visionary and an innovator, with a deep love for dairy animals and the dairy community. Contributions of his lifetime endeavors as expressed by friends and colleagues speaks volumes about the character and contributions of the man.


(See article and photos in August 2009 issue of Western DairyBusiness.)