On-farm culture lab

April 7, 2010 06:09 AM

*Extended comments are highlighted in blue.


Zach Myers
Jonesville, N.C.

Milk quality and mastitis control are extremely important to us at Myers Dairy, Inc. We strive to produce the highest-quality milk possible.

We use a variety of industry standards to produce and maintain high-quality milk. For example, we stress good nutrition, cow comfort, following correct milking procedures and maintaining our milking equipment. We don't really do anything unique as far as that is concerned.

One fairly unique thing we do, however, is use an on-farm culture lab. My wife, Sybil, has a background in microbiology and molecular biology. So it seemed logical to ask her to set up our lab as well as manage it.

We take milk samples from each clinical mastitis case and culture them to determine the causative microorganism. Once the organism is identified, a decision is made on how to treat the cow. Not all milk samples indicate that bacteria are present, and not all types of bacteria respond to therapy.

Prior to having the lab, we treated all clinical mastitis cases with one antibiotic, then switched antibiotics until the cow's milk was normal. Now I am able to determine which microorganism is causing the mastitis. If it is something that is sensitive to antibiotic therapy, I treat it accordingly. It is rare that I am not able to cure a clinical case of mastitis caused by a treatable microorganism.

If the culture comes back "no growth” or growth of a microorganism that is not sensitive to antibiotics I can use, I don't treat it. Most of the no-growth mastitis cases clear up in a few days. The cases that show growth of an untreatable microorganism generally clear up as well. However, this may sometimes take a couple of weeks.

Another way we use our lab is after DHIA testing. We only test quarterly with DHIA. Once I receive the somatic cell count (SCC) data, I run a high-SCC report. If I don't make the decision to cull or dry cows off early based on their SCC, I take a milk sample from all the high-SCC cows and culture it. I then can make the decision to pull cows a few at a time and treat them based on the culture results.

Even if you don't have a spouse with a background in microbiology, you can still set up a lab and use it efficiently on your operation with a little direction. There are references available through the NMC.

We have had our lab for about a year and a half. Since having the lab, I have been able to more efficiently treat my clinical mastitis cases. This efficiency has enabled us to lower our SCC. It has also saved us thousands of dollars in medicine and lost milk. I paid back the initial investment of the lab in about three months in reduced medicine usage alone.

Myers' February Prices  
Milk (3.5 bf, 3.0% prt): $16.99cwt.
Cull cows: $55/cwt.
Springing heifers: $1,500/head
Alfalfa: n/a
Cottonseed: n/a
Ground corn:  $180/ton
 Soybean meal:  $360/ton


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