It is a rough go for dairy farmers these days. While milk price has improved a little from the disastrous prices of a couple of years ago, the current price is very close to breakeven production costs for many dairy farms.

Profitability depends upon managing costs and doing things that improve production and milk quality. Dianne Shoemaker, OSU Extension Dairy Production Economics Field Specialist, is able to show that each year, regardless of milk price, the top 20 to 25% of dairy producers are able to show some profit per cow.  In low price years, the average producer is going to struggle to break even and probably loses money.  So, what can be done to help improve the odds of being profitable? 

I recently came across an article by Pamela Ruegg, a DVM in the Department of Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, entitled “The 10 Smart Things Dairy Farms Do To Achieve Milking Excellence”. Here is her list and some excerpts from that article:

  1. Set Performance Goals.  Ruegg suggests that some of those goals should include zero antibiotic residues in milk, bulk tank somatic cell count (SCC) at least below 250,000 cells/mL, and obtaining individual cow SCC values to manage subclinical mastitis.  Managing subclinical mastitis should focus on controlling new infections with a specific new subclinical infection rate goal of less than 5% per month.
  2. Rapidly Identify Problems.  Develop methods that monitor herd performance and the milking process that can detect problems, such as clinical mastitis, early on.
  3. Milk Clean Cows.  Dirty cows take longer to milk and reduce parlor throughput.  Clean and groom stalls frequently.  Scrape or remove manure from alleyways and isles frequently.  Develop and implement effective pre-dipping routines.
  4. Standardize Milking Routines.  Consistent milking routines are a key to quality milk production.  Communicate and teach those routines to those who milk.  Start by developing a written set of routines and work from that.
  5. Train Staff.  Spend time teaching, training, and periodically reviewing routines and milking procedures.  Make sure employees understand them, which may mean developing some materials in a different language to help with the process.
  6. Maintain and Update Milking Systems.  High quality milk is dependent upon a properly functioning milking system.  The system should be regularly evaluated and updated.
  7. Develop Treatment Protocols.  Treatment protocols define standard treatments for common diseases and injuries.  Involve your veterinarian in developing these protocols.  The judicious use of antibiotics is an important component of a veterinarian/client/patient/relationship (VCPR).
  8. Have a Mastitis Biosecurity Plan.  Keep your dairy cattle safe from contagious mastitis pathogens.  Practice quarantine procedures for any purchased cattle, buy healthy cattle from healthy herds, and culture samples from the bulk tank when new, purchased cattle are entering the herd.
  9. Take Care of Dry Cows.  Provide spacious, clean, and dry environments for non-lactating cows.  Do not group these cows near sick animals.  Provide good nutritional programs.
  10. Use Appropriate Consultants.  Develop a team of people with expertise in various areas to help sort through complex issues and to help make informed decisions.

The entire document with much more detail is available on line at http://milkquality.wisc.edu/milking-management/.