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The Myths of Milk Quality

January 9, 2011
By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today Editor

David Sumrall photo edited
Dairy producer Dave Sumrall addresses Ag Connect's Dairy Forum Sunday in Atlanta.

There are a number of myths held by dairy producers that get in the way of achieving milk quality, says David Sumrall, founder of Dairy Production Systems (DPS) in 2004.

DPS has now grown to include large dairies in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas that collectively house and milk 15,000 cows. Sumrall spoke at AgConnect’s Dairy Forum here in Atlanta Sunday.

“Bottom line, if milk quality is not important to you, you’re probably in the wrong business,” he says. “Aristotle once said: ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.’”
Since the mid-2000s, DPS has improved its milk quality from 400,000 SCC to just over 200,000 cells/ml.  To achieve quality results, Sumrall believes three principals are involved:
• Discipline: Doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. “People do the right thing when they understand why it must be done in a certain way,” he says.
• Compliance: Employees must understand the what, the how and the why of a certain practice.
• Accountability. Employees must take ownership. “Usually when there is a problem, when something doesn’t get done, it usually has a first name and a last name,” says Sumrall.
Sumrall goes on to describe—and dispel—for myths surrounding milk quality:
Myth 1: Heat and humidity produce elevated cell counts. “Heat and humidity are environmental vectors, but they are not bacteria. Only intramammary infections can cause mastitis.”
Cows need to be cool, clean, dry and comfortable. If you do not provide heat abatement, they will find a way to cool off—usually in wet, dirty conditions. And it is this bacteria-laden environment that leads to increased mastitis infections and elevated somatic cell counts.
Myth 2: As days in milk increase, SCCs increase. “Neither cows or somatic cells can count. They don’t know if they are 200 days in milk or 400 days in milk,” Sumrall says. “But if an infection is present and milk production declines in later lactation, the dilution of the somatic cells in the udder is less and it appears cell counts increase.”
Myth 3: The NMC milking routine—predip, strip, wipe and attach--won’t work in large, modern parlors.  “Parlor routine is much more than what happens in the parlor—it starts and ends where the cows live,” Sumrall says. If you have clean cows coming into the parlor, teats won’t need slow, excessive cleaning prior to unit attachment. In fact, the NMC milking routine is ideal to stimulate milk let down and faster milk out.
Myth 4: Water can wash away environmental woes. “At best, water is a ‘band aid’ that is used during milk prep to clean up problems in the housing area. There is no substitute for a clean living environment for cows—milking or dry,” he says.
Sumrall also challenged the often-stated belief that without quality premiums, dairy producers are not incentivized to produce quality milk. He notes that since his herds’ cell counts have been essentially cut in half, he is harvesting more than a ton of milk more per cow. Cow longevity has also improved since he is no longer culling nearly as many cows for mastitis.

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RELATED TOPICS: Dairy, Ag Connect

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