Milk quality: Use roadmap to validate change in the parlor

The roadmap illustrates the decision-making process. Full execution of each step is critical for success.

The roadmap illustrates the decision-making process. Full execution of each step is critical for success.

By Dean Kohler

In the milking parlor, we strive to improve milk quality, cow throughput and employee performance – without sacrificing operational strengths. To make improvement, you must understand the pathway of making change, leading to more effective decision-making and, ultimately, desired results.

The roadmap below illustrates the decision-making process. Full execution of each step is critical for success.

Understanding the roadmap

We often make decisions following the roadmap without knowing it. But it’s important to review to ensure nothing is overlooked.

• Improve herd performance. To initiate change, recognize where improvement is needed – even in high-performance herds.

• Identify challenges and limitations. Once an area of improvement is identified, recognize and understand current limitations. These will vary depending on the challenges you face.

• “How can I improve?” Look for potential solutions. For example, work with your equipment dealer and veterinarian to choose potential milk quality solutions. Set short- and long-term goals that can be monitored regularly.

• Implement change. This requires commitment by you and your employee team. Involve everyone in training sessions and follow-up meetings to discuss challenges and progress.

• Evaluate progress. Use goals to evaluate progress. If you’ve seen positive change and are happy with the results, continue forward. If you experience challenges or see negative results, answer the question, “How can I improve?

• Validate goals. This step is necessary to confirm positive change is meeting your expectations. If not, identify the current challenges and limitations before moving forward.

A real-life example

The greatest challenge you face today is identifying ways to improve cash flow – either increasing income or reducing expenses. Successful managers accomplish both.

A challenge I’ve seen recently is a shortage of high-quality bedding. Products like kiln-dried sawdust are either very expensive or too scarce for consistent supply, leaving producers asking, “Where do I go from here?” I’ve used the milk quality roadmap to make decisions.

For example, a dairy milks 450 cows and houses them in a freestall barn, using kiln-dried sawdust on mattresses. Due to a bedding shortage, they now use a combination of green sawdust and a limestone byproduct, which appears to have resulted in somatic cell counts rising from 200,000 to 275,000 over a three-month period. The dairy wants to improve.

The dairy’s challenges and limitations are that the bedding source does not promote udder health, leading to high bacteria counts, and inadequate bedding storage to allow the product to go through a heating process. While price and availability are challenges, the quality of the bedding source is the major limitation.

Asking “How can we improve?” led the dairy to draw two main conclusions: 1) improvements can be made by finding a high-quality bedding source, or 2) if the current bedding source must be used, better management can help improve milk quality issues.

Because other bedding sources are not readily available, the dairy decides to change the type of premilking teat dip to target the bacterial load. In the past they were able to meet their milk quality goals by using a .5% iodine dip for both a pre- and postmilking dip. They chose to apply premilking teat dip that is specifically designed to give them a fast 15-second kill and has superior cleaning capabilities. The farm sets a goal of lowering SCC to 225,000 by the end of a six-month period.

Two months after the change, SCC and clinical mastitis dropped, but not as quickly as anticipated. The herd manager worked with his team, using teat score monitoring, to determine the lime in the bedding was having a negative effect on teat condition. A decision was made to switch to a postdip with higher iodine and emollient levels, providing better kill opportunity and superior skin conditioning.

At the end of six months, the dairy is close to validating their goal by lowering SCC to 230,000. They are happy with cow response, and will continue to use this protocol until kiln-dried sawdust prices are more reasonable, or another high-quality bedding source becomes available.


The roadmap can be applied to multiple areas on the dairy, allowing you to set, evaluate and validate goals for continued improvement and success. Work with your milk quality specialist to ensure each change is goal-oriented, measured regularly for success, and validated, with an ultimate goal of the highest milk quality possible.


Dean Kohler is sales consultant – hygiene & supplies for GEA Farm Technologies/WestfaliaSurge.