Last January, when it appeared that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would step up monitoring of dairy farms that have had antibiotic residue violations, it got everyone’s attention. The FDA ended up delaying the program — until this summer — but the subject of residues has stayed on the front-burner.

At the Pfizer Animal Health Dairy Wellness Summit on Friday and Saturday, the focus was on improving quality and avoiding problems such as high somatic cell counts or drug residues.

Mark Wustenberg, vice president of quality and member services at Tillamook Cheese in Oregon, said it’s important to monitor somatic cell counts to determine if cows are staying “clean” of mastitis or whether they are becoming subclinically or clinically infected at some point in time.  

To do that, you need to establish some threshold or cut-off point for when these changes occur. Wustenberg said there is no perfect number for establishing when cow becomes subclinically infected. Whether it is 200,000 cells/ml or some other number, the idea is to have a standard that can be applied consistently in spotting trends.  

For instance, if a number of cows cross the 200,000 cells/ml. threshold, is something happening at the farm that would explain it? Are certain groups of cows going up or down in somatic cell count over time?

The same general principles apply to bacteria levels in bulk tanks — it’s important to have quality-assurance steps in place that can be monitored. One person at the conference summarized it this way: “Let’s stop waiting for bad events to happen. Let’s set up processes to prevent them.”

When it comes to avoiding drug residues on farm, a California veterinarian emphasized the importance of training hospital-pen workers. “I see too many dairies where this (training) falls to someone other than the veterinarian,” he said, adding that he would rather see a veterinarian do it.

Lorin Berge, dairy producer from Valders, Wis., said he tries to keep treatment protocols simple, which helps minimize the chances of mistakes. (Please see the video at the top of this page.)

“We have a fairly well-defined system in place,” Berge said. “It takes some of the responsibility off of the hands of the hospital people… their job is simply to administer the right product to the right cow.”

Berge also emphasized the importance of working with veterinarians.