Quality control: The little things

Most progressive dairies have the big things covered. As we strive to manage the dairy operation in a systematic way, it is often the little but important things that get overlooked. There may be SOPs (standard operating procedures) in place for the obvious tasks of milking, feeding, treating sick animals and running the synchronization program, but do you have SOPs for those "little" things that are often overlooked?

When was the last time you checked or calibrated the scales on your mixer wagon? I find this to be one area that can cost the dairy thousands of dollars in lost feed and/or lost milk production. It is obviously a simple task to complete, but it rarely gets done on a routine basis unless there is reason to think that something is wrong. You can easily use some 50-pound bags of feed additives or the weight of a human (not while the mixer is running, of course). Check the weights with varying amounts of forage or other ingredients in the mixer as there can be variation at different weights. Have a checklist so we are sure this is getting checked on a routine basis, not only twice each year.

If you are feeding pasteurized waste milk, are you monitoring the time and temperature and following up with some routine post-pasteurization bacterial counts. Maybe this is already part of your SOP. If not, then don't wait to check these areas only when there are perceived issues with sick calves. Get it on a checklist.

Are you performing on-farm milk culturing? If so, is there any quality control for making sure we are correctly identifying the mastitis pathogens. Is the incubator set at the correct temperature? Are we certain that "no-growth" samples are truly uninfected cattle? These are all important questions to ask so that we can ensure accurate results.

Have you recently checked the temperature of the semen thaw water bath? Is this water changed and is the unit cleaned on a routine basis? Is this procedure on the checklist? Incorrect thaw temperatures and bacterial growth in the water bath can have significant negative effects on conception rate. We are often found trouble-shooting the obvious areas where we can have breakdown of procedure, but often miss these "little" things.

While we are talking temperature, what is the temperature of the refrigerator where you store vaccines and other pharmaceuticals? What about the temperature of the coldstored colostrum? Vaccine can be subject to damage at too low (freezing) or too high of a temperature. Coliforms can double in colostrum every 20 minutes if the cooling does not take place quickly. Keep a thermometer in the refrigerator and monitor the temperature.

Is your milking system vacuum monitored routinely and is the gauge correct? This mechanical system is used 365 days a year. We should monitor system vacuum like the gas gauge on your car or truck. Is it routine SOP for the milkers to look at the gauge prior to each shift?

These are just a few of the areas on the dairy where I have seen breakdowns lead to significant issues or production losses. Many seem really obvious, but when we find that something small was the cause of a fairly major issue on the dairy it is eye-opening. Include these "little" things as part of SOPs and checklists. Hold certain individuals responsible for monitoring each of these areas. If someone does not have direct responsibility, it is not likely to get done routinely.

Here are a few more that have recently caused an issue on some of the dairies I work with. I'm sure if you think about it for a few minutes, you can make you own list.

• Is your scale for measuring forage dry matter calibrated?

• Are your urine ketone strips expired or have they been stored incorrectly? They won't read positive if mishandled.

• Is your on-farm herd management software routinely making backups?
Mark Thomas is a veterinarian and partner in Countryside Veterinary Clinic, LLP in Lowville, N.Y.