Use teams to improve milk quality

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Results of a recent pilot project on Wisconsin dairy farms indicate that milk quality advisory teams (MQATs) can be very successful in stimulating the adoption of best-management practices that lead to the production of high-quality milk. In a pilot project sponsored by the University of Wisconsin, 59 farms agreed to participate in a MQAT that would meet monthly for four to six months. Participation of a key farm management person, the herd veterinarian and a dairy plant field representative were suggested as core team members, but the team was free to include other consultants. Financial arrangements were at the discretion of the farm, but the teams were expected to be self-funded.

Each team was supplied with program materials that formed the basis of the monthly team meetings. The materials were structured to guide team members through milk quality situation analysis, identification of farm-specific critical control points for milk quality, goal-setting, definition of action points, assignment of responsibilities, and determination of appropriate evaluation strategies. Each team also was provided with milk quality resource materials.

Successful mechanism

Preliminary data analysis indicates that the formation of milk quality teams was a successful mechanism for encouraging adoption of many best-management practices. MQAT participation increased the following: n Frequency of scheduled milking system analysis.

  • Adoption of clinical mastitis records.
  • The frequency of bulk tank culture.
  • Use of comprehensive dry cow therapy.
  • Interaction with the herd veterinarian.
  • Review of somatic cell count records.

Not all teams were successful in meeting their milk quality goals. Teams that had formal team meetings and good team communication reported better results as compared to teams that met more informally. This finding was important because meeting formally as a team was related to larger improvements in bulk tank somatic cell counts (BTSCC).

Lower somatic cell counts

Successful team formation resulted in an average BTSCC reduction of 45,000 cells/ml, as compared to an average increase of 30,000 cells/ml for teams that did not meet the definition of successful team formation. The reduction in the somatic cell count resulted in more profit for herds with successful team formation.

We believe that MQATs are successful, not because of new techniques to improve milk quality, but because of the "Triple-A" principle. They can successfully raise Awareness about the importance of milk quality, stimulate coherent Actions to improve milk quality and Assign appropriate responsibility. Based on the success of the pilot project, we expect to enroll up to 1,000 farms in MQATs over the next few years.

Pamela Ruegg is an extension milk quality veterinarian and associate professor at the University of Wisconsin.  



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