Quality Milk Made Simple: A Florida dairy producer debunks some myths

April 14, 2010 11:45 AM

The production dairy industry is full of myths that relate to milk quality. These myths are alive and well, and living in an area near you.

Myth #1: "Somatic cell counts (SCCs) go up in the summer when temperatures and humidity increase. It's just a fact we have to deal with in this part of the world.”

Temperature and humidity are not responsible for higher SCCs. Elevated SCCs are the result of only one thing: infection in the mammary gland.

If you put cows in a nasty environment, they will get elevated SCCs, regardless of the temperature and humidity. Management has to be prepared to make cows comfortable or suffer the consequences of the cow doing the best she can. The cow is concerned about survival, not milk quality. That is the dairy producer's job.

Admittedly, solving the challenging issues that heat and humidity can bring is not always simple and is seldom inexpensive. However, if you are going to produce superior-quality milk in regions where cows have to endure extreme conditions, it is just a simple fact that you have to make provisions to overcome cows being left to their own devices.

Either that, or learn to be satisfied with the frustrations that come with the challenging times of the year and the "yo-yo” effect that it has on herd health, particularly clinical and subclinical mastitis and the resulting increases in SCC as well.

Myth #2: "The herd is stale right now, with a high average days in milk. It is normal for SCCs to go up as days in milk increase.”

Neither the cow nor any of her four quarters has a clue how long they have been in milk. Again, elevated SCCs are the result of only one thing, and that is infection in the mammary gland. If there is infection in the mammary gland, as days in milk goes up and production goes down, SCCs will absolutely go up because the bacteria continue to multiply at the same speed as when milk production was much higher.

Why do you think dry cow therapy was invented? With clinical mastitis or even subclinical mastitis present in the udder, when the cow is turned dry and we stop milking her, all of a sudden there is a huge supply of milk for the bacteria to live in and thrive on, multiplying rapidly. Dry cow therapy is designed to give cows some protection from that challenge during the onset of the dry period.

Myth #3: "The NMC milking routine sounds good, but with large herds like ours, it is impossible to use a full-parlor routine and get all the cows milked. We tried it once and got way behind.”

This one makes me laugh. I spent an inordinate amount of my time early in my career trying to figure out an easier way to get cows through the barn faster.

The fact is that at no time has our milk quality been better than when we were utilizing the full NMC-recommended routine. We just had to learn how to apply it in large parlors of varying sizes.

In some cases, that meant changing staffing patterns. In others, it just meant studying time and motion in the parlor and making adjustments to routines to do away with wasted steps or motion. The goal is to have operators in the right place at the right time, without inhibiting cows entering the parlor.

One of the biggest things we learned—and the hardest lesson to teach and gain adoption on—is to keep operators in the milking pit and out of the holding area. The temptation to "speed things up” by driving cows in the parlor has exactly the opposite effect.

To begin with, cows want to come in the parlor. However, cows are creatures of habit, and if they are only allowed to come in the parlor when someone is driving them in shouting and whistling, that is what they will become trained to do.

Parlors should be quiet. Cows should be allowed to flow into the parlor at will. Operators should be positioned to go to work when cows arrive at their designated work area. The full NMC routine covers all the bases, and is what it is for a reason. We decided to quit trying to outsmart folks that were smarter than us to begin with and work on making the routine work logistically within our parlors.

Myth #4: "Sure, our cows get a little dirty between milkings, but with those udder washers that we have, it's not a problem.”

While it may be true that with enough water and pressure you can clean the dirtiest of cows, wash pens still don't solve the problems encountered by the cows living in an environment that got them that dirty to begin with. Secondly, it is impossible to use a wash pen and have cows both clean and dry when they enter the parlor.

We found that the only way we could use the washers and have dry cows in the parlor at the speed that we were capable of achieving meant getting cows up sooner and keeping them away from feed and rest longer. This, of course, was unacceptable.

Cleaning up our cows' living environment and providing a place for them to live where they could be relatively cool and dry, and turning off the water in the wash pens, was without question the No. 1 factor in pushing our milk quality over the top.


Bonus content:

Learn more about Dairy Production Systems

Making Quality Milk Simple

NMC''s Web site


David Sumrall, here in one of his milking parlors, believes producing quality milk takes discipline, compliance and

David Sumrall's Dairy Production Systems operates two dairies in Florida and one each in Georgia, Mississippi and Texas. Total herd is 14,000 head. In 2008, his Florida dairies were named No. 1 for quality by the Dairy Division of Florida's Department of Agriculture. In 2007, they were No. 2. The 2009 awards had not yet been announced by press time.

The following is taken from Sumrall's presentation at NMC's annual meeting in Albuquerque, N.M., in February.

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