Avid Sumrall did a slow boil as he sat in the audience, listening to the speaker refer to Florida’s milk quality as practically the worst in the country — second only to Louisiana’s. It soon became apparent that the speaker was wagging his finger at the Southeast for that region’s role in opposing a lower somatic cell count standard in the
Sumrall didn’t waste any time registering his own opposition. Before the speaker had even removed his microphone, Sumrall went up and said, “You don’t know me, but I take great offense to what you just got through saying.” Quite adeptly, the speaker turned it around and told Sumrall, “You’re the person I’ve been looking for.”
Sand provides a clean, dry place for animals to lie in the fresh-cow pen at this Dairy Production Systems facility in
The two talked long into the night, laying the foundation for a long friendship. But Sumrall still went home that week wanting to prove the speaker wrong. He was determined to get his somatic cell count down, thus proving that even
Yet, by proving the speaker wrong, Sumrall may have actually proved him right. “It all boils down to being serious about milk quality,” Sumrall says. “I had to stop making excuses.”
A low to moderate somatic cell count — of less than 400,000 cells per milliliter — is achievable even in the Southeast with the right management.
Manage the environment
The extreme environmental conditions found in the Southeast, if not managed properly, are an added stress on cows. Cows with subclinical mastitis can quickly turn clinical in the summertime heat and humidity.
And, because it is hot, cows have a natural tendency to find shade and water. Some of the farms still use outdoor cooling ponds. While these ponds might be a good idea in theory; in reality, they are prime breeding grounds for bacteria — especially in the hot weather.
Yet, there are ways to manage around this problem.
The problem in
DPS decided not to fall into that trap. Instead, it changed its management to stay ahead of the summertime jumps in somatic cell count.
Despite the heat and humidity outdoors, cows find relative coolness and comfort in the free-stalls at Larson Dairy No. 8 in
Starts with an attitude
Ever since his encounter with a speaker at a National Mastitis Council meeting several years ago, David Sumrall, president and chief executive officer at DPS, has instilled an attitude that milk quality is a high priority. “It pervades what we do every day,” he says.
Those who work with him agree. “It’s a clear vision from the top down,” says Kathy Swift, consulting veterinarian for DPS.
DPS owns two farms in
Travis Larson spent two years as dairy manager at one of the DPS facilities in
It’s possible to achieve high milk quality in the Southeast, despite the heat and humidity. But it’s going to require bringing more cows inside and giving them a clean, dry place to lie.
“I’ve always been that way — even before I went to work for Dave (Sumrall),” he says. “I’ve always wanted to milk healthy cows.”
Tools already in place
Since returning home — Larson currently serves as general manager of the Larson Dairy No. 8 facility with 1,850 to 1,900 cows in milk — somatic cell count has improved dramatically. In 2003, when he took over, Larson No. 8 was running a somatic cell count of 350,000 to 400,000. This year, it will probably average 240,000 to 250,000.
Larson says he concentrates on three key areas in order to reduce mastitis and keep somatic cell counts in check:
Aggressive prevention; that is, employing a proper milking procedure. “You have to post-dip, you have to pre-dip, you have to strip,” Larson says.
Aggressive treatment of mastitis, using a written protocol.
Aggressive culling of chronic cows that seem to be spending a lot of time in the hospital barn.
“We work at it, but it’s tough,” Larson says. This past June, somatic cell count at the Larson No. 8 facility rose from 230,000 to 320,000 in just one day, he says, as the result of sweltering summertime heat coming in and replacing milder spring temperatures. Some of the cows went from subclinical to clinical (expression of mastitis) due to the heat stress. “We treated a lot of cows and got it back down,” Larson adds.
Similar progress has been made at the five DPS facilities that David Sumrall manages in the states of
Environment was one of the things “most lacking in our system” prior to making a concerted attempt to get somatic cell counts down, Sumrall says. “We were not doing a good enough job providing the cow with a clean, dry place to live,” he adds.
On a recent tour of his
“Cows love it here,” Sumrall says.
DPS also changed its milking routine. Prior to the new routine, cows would come in from drip pens, and milkers would simply attach units without any further preparation. Now, the farm follows a strict protocol consisting of five steps: pre-dip, forestrip, wipe, attach units and post-dip.
“We had all of the tools in front of us all the time — we just hadn’t made it a priority to put those together,” Sumrall says.
By putting the tools together, DPS experienced a significant drop in somatic cell counts. In the late 1990s, somatic cell count averaged 500,000. By 2001, it had improved to 359,000. So far this year, the five DPS farms have averaged 247,000.
General progress is under way. According to anecdotal reports, somatic cell counts among members of the Southeast Milk dairy cooperative in
As more farms learn how to deal with the heat and humidity, milk quality in the Southeast will continue to improve.