How's the dairy quality performance on your farm? Are you getting milk quality premiums every month? Are the market cows and bob calves that leave your farm consistently bringing top market value?

If the quality of product and process on your farm is less than you'd like it to be, use these tips to help you tighten up your management for quality.

Any part of your dairy operation is a fair target for quality management, but many producers start with the milking routine and the process of cleaning and sanitizing the milking equipment. Tightening up on quality standards here is most likely to yield a quick payback.

Here's how to get started:

  • Set goals. These should be reasonable and attainable. If you have received a 20-cent quality premium six months out of the last 12, you may want to shoot for at least a 40-cent premium in 10 of the next 12 months. Bacteria and SCC numbers are not the only milk quality goals - others include clinical mastitis cases per month, along with bulk tank cultures free of Strep. ag and mycoplasma.
  • Establish standard operating procedures (SOPs). Written protocols for routine tasks, such as milking and equipment cleanup, belong on every farm, regardless of size.
  • Train personnel based on your goals and SOPs. Training is not a once-and-done thing. New employees, new procedures, and the need for reinforcement all require that training be conducted on an on-going basis.
  • Involve management personnel and key employees in setting the goals, developing the SOPs and conducting the training. "Buy-in" is critical to the success of any quality management program. Ask for and use employee input as you develop your quality programs.
  • Track performance and share the results. Timely feedback is a great motivator for sustaining or improving performance.
  • Recognize, reinforce and reward good performance. Top performance by an individual or by a group is cause for celebration.

On many farms, however, there is a disconnect between farm goals and the implementation needed to reach those goals.

In a recent survey of 32 Pennsylvania dairy producers, 90 percent had milk quality goals for their farms, but many were not following key management practices associated with achieving milk quality.

For example, only 20 percent had a written protocol for milking procedures; 52 percent had formal training of milking parlor personnel; 10 percent had written antibiotic treatment plans, and 48 percent recorded antibiotic treatments. Farms participating in this study averaged 150 milking cows; a 20,800-pound rolling herd average; 313,000 somatic cell count, and 11,600 standard plate count.

The milking center is a great place to get a quality management program up and running, but don't stop there. Other areas on your farm that may be candidates for a quality management program include: newborn calves, maternity/fresh cows, reproductive management, biosecurity, nutrient management, and the list goes on. How many aspects of your operation could benefit from a quality management scheme?

Larry Hutchinson is an extension veterinarian at Penn State University.