Editor’s note: The following article was written by Phil Durst, Michigan State University extension dairy educator.
What do the dairy producers say who have achieved a level of milk quality in which somatic cell count (SCC) averages less than 100,000? At the Dairyland Testing DHIA annual meeting in 2010, there a panel of five producers had that distinction: Dellar Dairy Farm of Harrisville, Mich., Double B Farms of Whittemore, Mich., Lemajru Dairy, LLC of West Branch, Mich., Rosebrugh Farms of West Branch, Mich., and Victor Daniels & Sons of Standish, Mich.
This was the opportunity for others to hear their “secrets” to success. What were those secrets? What was common to them all?
First let’s talk about the diversity among these five operations in Northeastern Michigan; they ranged in size from 40 cows to 440 cows. Some housed cows in newer barns and some worked with older barns. While most (four) bedded with sand, one used sawdust with lime. One milked three times a day while the others milked twice.
What were the common factors? These are four that I picked up on.
1. A commitment to quality.
This is where it begins. It starts with the attitude of the owners who then instill that same attitude to all working on the farm. One said that they want their employees to want to drink the milk from the farm. That hadn’t been the case of at least one employee who came from another farm. All talked about the responsibility to the public for the milk they purchase. While premiums are nice, it is not the primary factor that drove these producers to produce quality milk.
2. A broad view of factors that result in health and quality.
According to these producers, “there is no silver bullet,” you have to do a lot of little things right. As one put it, “sweat the details,” meaning that the care in the barn is important and well-bedded stalls along with good manure handling matter. It also means that forage quality and good nutrition are important in the dry cow program as well as throughout the lactation. Fresh feed and clean water were cited by one producer as factors in quality milk. These producers wanted healthy cows. Somatic cell count was just one indicator of that. And of course it meant that procedures in the parlor were critically important. These herds followed standard operating procedures (SOPs) so that cows experienced consistency. Everybody did the right things the right way.
3. Recognition that it is a total team effort.
Good communication was a key listed by these producers. If everyone on the team is not responsive and timely, then milk quality will suffer. “Instill the attitude of animal care and milk quality into everyone who touches a cow,” was how one producer put it. Identify cows with problems quickly so that that animal can be supported, monitored and if necessary, treated.