Milking Center Management Squeeze out milk quality

January 14, 2009 06:00 PM

Mark Wustenberg
*Extended comments in blue.

There's little doubt milk prices are going to be significantly lower this year. During times like these, cash flow becomes a much bigger concern and tough decisions have to be made about where to cut as we tighten our belt.

As you look for ways to cut costs, ask two questions:
  • If I cut an expense, what will be the impact on other current expenses or revenues?
  • How will it impact the ability to quickly recover once the economic environment improves?

Milk quality and milking management are areas where many of the effects are indirect. So it can be tempting to cut expenses when in actuality we are making things worse.

Don't risk significant premiums for milk quality if they are available. If significant premiums are not being paid, however, you might find youself wanting to sacrifice milk quality in order to lower current expenses.

But make a careful assessment of how current costs can be cut. It is tempting to move to cheaper chemicals or extend the use of liners. You may even be tempted to cut out portions of wash-up procedures.

Frequently, sanitation and wash-up procedures can be more finely tuned to use less water and chemicals. Such improvements not only result in less cost but may even improve performance.

If chemical usage is excessive, this significantly shortens the life of rubber goods. That, in turn, can increase costs either through more frequent replacement or through poorer milk-out, poorer bacteria counts or high mastitis incidence.

Heating water is one of the most energy-intensive processes on the dairy. Many areas of the country have programs that will help you audit your energy demands. In many cases, there are options available to offset the cost of improvements needed to lower power usage.

Another area where it is tempting to cut costs is through buying cheaper teat dip. Remember that a portion of teat dip cost relates to whether the company has done the necessary research to be able to demonstrate efficacy.

While the lack of this information does not automatically mean the product doesn't work, it does mean that you should be more cautious about claims being made.

In herds that have very low levels of infectious mastitis, it is possible to use less-effective dips and not see immediate consequences. However, one should never forget that this is one of the most significant insurance programs you invest in.

Frequently, I see folks switch to products that lead to poorer teat skin condition. This, in turn, often leads to higher bacteria numbers persisting on the teat skin and makes teats much harder to clean properly. That can
result in immediate increases in clinical mastitis.

Managing clinical mastitis is crucial. Pre-milking hygiene and environmental and bedding management are the two most important factors in preventing environmental mastitis. Be extremely careful in cutting resources in these areas.

It is tempting to reduce labor and bedding costs by stretching bedding schedules, particularly with dry cows. Remember, though, that the close-up dry and fresh cows are likely more susceptible to environmental bacterial challenge than other cows. Any cost savings here will likely be given back plus more through increased treatment and culling of clinical mastitis cases.

Finally, do a complete review of your clinical mastitis management program. It might reveal areas where modifying treatment strategies can cut drug and labor costs while improving cure rates.

Such a review also frequently reveals that significant time and cost is being focused on chronic repeat cows. Culling chronically infected cows can be costly, but prevention is far preferable to trying to unsuccessfully salvage these animals.

Bonus content:

Follow these links for NMC fact sheets:

Environmental Mastitis

A Practical Look at Contagious Mastitis

Recommended Milking Procedures

Spanish/Espanol-Una Práctica Mirada a la Mastitis Ambiental

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