Mind the Details

April 1, 2014 10:18 PM

Pete Wiersma

Pete Wiersma
Buhl, Idaho

In addition to helping manage 1,500 cows on his family’s two dairies in Idaho’s Magic Valley, Wiersma serves on the boards of United Dairymen of Idaho and Independent Milk Producers.

Milk quality takes on added importance for us every year about this time. Operating open-lot dairies through the cold and wet conditions of winter and early spring can be a challenge, and our SCC counts, bacteria counts and new cases of mastitis are obvious indicators of how well our efforts are working.

Winter corral maintenance consists of pushing, piling and, if possible, removing wet manure on a daily basis. In addition, we add straw to each corral as needed, typically every other day as weather conditions dictate. Summer corral maintenance is much less labor intensive. It’s simply harrowing each corral to prevent any damp areas where cows would want to congregate.

Several years ago, in an effort to increase milk production, we went to 3X milking. That worked well for us, and as an added bonus, we saw was a fairly quick 80,000 reduction in our average SCC count. Soon after, we created a high SCC string, which is milked last on every shift. This lowered our average by about another 20,000 to 30,000. These days, any cow with a count of 400,000 is a candidate for the high SCC pen, depending on her age and stage of lactation.

In the parlor, we try for consistency in the prep and milking routines. Teats are sanitized with an iodine-based pre-dip solution, then cleaned with single-service cloth towels and primed. Milking units are attached after all cows are prepped, usually about a minute to a minute and a half to allow for milk let-down. We use a barrier-type post-dip year-round. It’s expensive, but we feel it helps keep the cows’ teats in excellent condition.

On the high SCC and hospital pens, we also use a chlorine-based back-flush system. This seems to work well to eliminate any contamination issues in the milking units and yet avoids the use of additional water, which would otherwise end up in the lagoons.

Since the milking equipment has such a direct influence on udder health, we have our dealer perform a total system check once a month. Vacuum levels are measured and adjusted if needed, pulsators are graphed to make sure each side is working properly and vacuum-line air filters are changed, in addition to other smaller details, which are no less important.

Incidences of mastitis occur throughout the year but are much more frequent during the winter months. Based on the age and history of the cow, each case is treated immediately and aggressively. But the treatment varies depending on the degree of severity—from stripping the quarter out to intramammary and systemic antibiotic therapy. We expect to see fairly rapid improvement or we reevaluate.

It’s important from a milk quality and food safety standpoint that we keep extremely detailed treatment records, and all milk and meat withholds are beyond what is indicated on the label of the medicines we use.

Wiersma’s recent prices

$23.35 (3.65 bf, 3.23 prt)

Cull cows

Springing heifers

Alfalfa hay


Ground corn

Wheat distillers

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