Milking Center Management No time for complacency

February 2, 2009 06:00 PM

Mark Wustenberg
In economic times like these, it is human nature to let some things slide in order to fight more pressing battles.

Milk quality can be one those things, especially if you're well under the legal limits for bacteria and somatic cell counts. Yet ensuring that we meet customer needs is even more important in times like these.

We need consumers coming back to the dairy aisle week after week. We simply cannot afford to deliver products that don't meet consumers' expectations.

There is a strong tendency on the dairy farm to define quality as a set of physically measurable benchmarks. But it may be useful to think of quality in a broader framework that reconciles customer expectations with supplier performance.

To complicate matters, dairy producers have multiple customers along the value chain: the processor, the retailer, the food service customer and the consumer. The processor may or may not have the same expectations as the others. Processor-defined quality often focuses on impacts to operational efficiency and cost.

But the consumer's definition includes attributes like value, convenience, taste and consistency. And growing consumer interest in where food comes from and how it is produced provides our industry with an opportunity to more fully understand and meet the expectations of the entire supply chain.

Safety and basic nutritional value still form the basis for the positive perceptions we enjoy in the marketplace. Yet we have the opportunity to do better.

Even on farms where milk quality is above average, we are still managing systems that tend to wait for defects to show up in the milk before we react. Bacterial contamination can occur via the cow, the environment, through water sources and from the equipment. Bacterial loads can be made worse (or better) by sanitation practices, temperature, extended storage and milking times.

But to meet customer expectations, quality milk must consistently reach the processor unadulterated and with low SCC and bacterial status. That implies that we need to employ strategies on the dairy that reduce variation and that our systems must respond proactively before we are out of compliance.

Processes can be developed that address each of these factors. However, no process can be expected to run consistently without some system of feedback. The information needs to be accurate and timely to allow for effective decision making.

Even where technology-based monitoring is employed, there is a human component. Formal performance-based employee monitoring and evaluation is an essential part of any milk-quality program.

Finally, the ultimate in proactive management is ongoing training and education. Without it, no milk-quality program can really be characterized as "state of the art.”

Bonus content:

Click here to read more about the Canadian Quality Milk Program.

Click here for "Parlor Watch 305."

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