Consistency Equals Quality

April 3, 2012 08:40 PM

CharlieDeGrootCharles DeGroot

Fresno, Calif.

DeGroot is a third-generation California dairy producer whose San Joaquin Valley operation milks 2,400 cows.




**Extended comments highlighted in blue
Milk quality is a top priority on our dairy. Freestall bedding, milking routine, postdip, milker hygiene, the clean-in-place system and culling for high somatic cell counts (SCCs) are several factors that influence our milk quality. For us, milk quality begins and ends with consistency.
When we moved from our open corral dairy to freestalls in 2000, we knew we had to be very diligent about flushing lanes, cleaning beds and adding new bedding weekly. It took several years of adjusting, but we now have a system that works well. Our flush system runs four times per day. Each lane is flushed every six hours.
We have one employee who hand-rakes soiled beds and shovels wet manure from crossover lanes. He then comes right back through and rakes the beds with the tractor. This is done six days a week. We use dry composted manure for bedding and add new bedding every Tuesday.
The flush water is sent to the separator, and separated manure is put in windrows and composted to be re-used as bedding. Our exercise lots are scraped regularly, and we scrape twice a week and bed under the shades (during the winter) in the few non-freestall corrals we have. Clean, dry and comfortable bedding are key factors in keeping SCCs down.
Several years ago, we were having issues with our lab pasteurized counts (LPCs) being too high. We began looking into our milk quality from a parlor standpoint. The first step we took was to hire a reputable company in our area that supplies chemicals for cleaning dairy equipment. They came in and evaluated our system, introduced different detergent and acid, and dialed in our automatic wash system. The challenge in our barn was our meters. Once we figured out how to keep them clean, it was no problem. Within a month, we had our LPC counts down, averaging below 100. Lowering LPCs proved that our milking system was being cleaned, but the next step was udder health.

As we began to evaluate udder health, we discovered that we had a teat-end damage issue. It was a result of overmilking. This was contributing greatly to an ever-increasing mastitis issue. There wasn’t enough letdown time between priming the cow and hanging the machine.

There was also a minor equipment adjustment that had to be made to decrease the time between end of milk flow and the machine detaching. This led us to implement a strict 10-cow milking routine. Our barn has two double-20 pits with four milkers. Each milker is responsible for 10 cows on the east side and 10 cows on the west side of his pit. Cows are washed in a sprinkler pen, so we don’t predip. Cows dry in the holding pen and for the most part don’t need additional prep other than priming.

Our routine is to prime 10 cows, and hang those 10 cows in the same order they were primed in. Any cow with mastitis is held out and moved to the hospital pen, where she is evaluated for treatment. Once milking is complete, cows are postdipped using sprayers.

It sounds simple, and it is, but the key is consistency. We’ve installed a camera system so that we can occasionally check to see if all protocols are being followed. All milkers also wear latex gloves and have an iodine solution to dip their hands in between sides.
Another contributing factor to low SCCs are the decisions to cull or treat high-SCC cows. Cows presented to the hospital are evaluated closely to determine if treatment is cost-effective. Most cows presented to the hospital are given two opportunities to respond to treatment and are culled on the third time. We sample all cows coming into the hospital, as well as all fresh heifers entering the herd. Any Staph. aureus positive cow that comes to the hospital is culled. In addition to that, we cull high-SCC cows that are long in milk, open and less than 65 lb. Some high-SCC cows that have high milk production are sampled to determine which quarter is infected, and treated in the hospital.
One of the driving factors for maintaining a low SCC is the monthly quality bonus program through our co-op. With lower milk prices, every dollar counts. An additional 5¢, 10¢ or 20¢ per cwt. can positively influence the bottom line.
The consistent implementation of all the things I’ve talked about is what helps us maintain an average SCC of around 96,000, an LPC of 23, an E. coli count of 46 and an SPC (standard plate count) of 1,596. These numbers are an average from the last three months. I’m convinced that all management practices working together are what help us accomplish our goals. It takes a good plan, good people to help implement that plan and regular evaluation of protocols. We are always fine-tuning and adjusting our system to make sure we are on track.



DeGroot's Most Recent Prices  
Milk (3.52% bf, 3.29% prt) $14.43/cwt. (over base), $16.13/cwt. (quota)
Cull cows $68/cwt.
Springing heifers $1,200/head
Alfalfa hay (delivered/premium) $310-$335/ton
Corn (rolled) $289/ton
Cottonseed $362/ton
Bull calves $200/head
Canola $279/ton


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