CSI-Dairy: Milk quality

A cow-side investigation into a quest for higher milk quality

Numerous ‘culprits’ exist on dairy farms, robbing herd performance and injuring the dairy’s bottom line. Identifying and arresting the offender isn’t always easy, and often requires a full investigation, gathering and analyzing evidence on the farm and in the lab. One mystery that often takes a team of investigators to uncover is the search for improvements and necessary changes for increased milk quality, productivity and profitability.

By Kevin Zieser

Ron Abing didn’t call me because of a sudden spike in his somatic cell count (SCC), a cow down with severe coliform mastitis or a hot tank of milk. He didn’t have an immediate or serious issue to address overnight. He simply realized his dairy’s average SCC of 300,000 was no longer good enough.

Kevin Zieser is a quality milk manager with Pfizer Animal Health

A few days after our initial discussion, I sat in a conference room at Majestic View Dairy in Lancaster, Wis., with Ron and key members of his herd health team, including his veterinarian, herd manager and  daughters (both of whom help manage the dairy). We conducted a Maximum Milk Quality, or Q-Max, evaluation to investigate what was contributing to his merely average performance and how to turn the numbers around.

A break in the case

During one of our discussions, Ron admitted, “I don’t like stripping. I refused to strip when I was part of the milking team.”

After further questioning, it became apparent the milking routines at Majestic View were incomplete and, at times, haphazardly applied in the parlor.

• Incorporate stripping into routine

Ron needed help establishing a complete and consistent milking routine in the parlor. As a team, we developed a new milking routine, which included stripping as the cows entered the milking parlor to allow for teat-end stimulation and milk let-down. The routine also included the usual steps, such as dipping with an antiseptic dip, wiping and ensuring adequate prep-to-attachment lag time (90 to 120 seconds). By adding stripping to the routine, Ron’s milking team saw a 30- to 40- second improvement in attachment time per cow. Shorter attachment time translated into better teat end condition.

• Train staff for consistency

A new routine is only as good as the staff that carries it out. It was important to train Ron’s staff on the new routine and make sure milkers understood the reason for the changes. We developed a comprehensive, bilingual training program that not only taught milkers the new routine, but also educated them on the anatomy of the cow and signs of mastitis, why milk let-down is important, and the economics and the importance of milk quality. Their understanding and buy-in to the parlor routine helped ensure consistency across people and across time.

After reviewing and revising the milking procedures, Ron saw a decrease in his average SCC from 300,000 to 264,000. Case solved. But the investigation continued.

Public enemy No. 1

Although improvement was evident, Ron still wasn’t satisfied with his numbers. Culture records indicated there was an issue with environmental mastitis, showing strains of Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and coliform bacteria were causing a majority of the mastitis cases. And, looking at the decade-old facility, in tandem with the cultures, it was apparent the facility was in need of an update, as were bedding and environmental management practices.

Ron and I knew it was time to call in reinforcements for the case, and Dr. Nigel Cook, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, arrived on the scene to conduct a full facility assessment.

As suspected, the dated and worn mattresses and facility management were exposing the cows to environmental bacteria and contributing to mastitis incidence. Additionally, the stall design was compounding issues with lameness and general cow discomfort. The evidence suggested addressing these challenges would uncover the true solution to his high SCC.

After several months of planning, Ron and his family decided to execute a full facility redesign, including a new sand separation system. Following the project and management changes, the dairy reached an all-time low SCC of 143,000 in December 2010.

Through the help of advisers and an internal team of herd managers and milkers, Majestic View Dairy has seen great improvements in milk quality, production and profitability. Ron continues to work with his herd veterinarian to keep milk quality top of mind on the dairy operation.


• Kevin Zieser is a quality milk manager with  Pfizer Animal Health, working with dairy producers to improve mastitis management. Contact your Pfizer Animal Health representative with questions on your milk quality.

Learn more about Ron Abing’s quest for higher-quality milk at www.milkqualityfocus.com.

Each month, DairyBusiness Communications will check the case files of lead dairy ‘investigators’ to uncover another ‘CSI-Dairy’ mystery. Episodes are archived at www.dairybusiness.com.