Three Opportunities to Improve Milk Quality

January 28, 2018 02:02 PM
These will cost you pennies to implement.

As a new year dawns, I have two resolutions every dairy producer should make.


I will get and/or keep my dairy in the top 25% of my milk market for all milk quality measurements. Global milk supply is headed into another surplus for 2018. Any reduction in exports and processors will be awash with milk, and some producer contracts could end. If your market is terminated, you don’t want to be in the bottom half for milk quality looking for a home for your milk.


I am going to establish the cost of a case of mastitis for my dairy, and I will track mastitis costs in my herd. Many dairy producers do not believe mastitis costs as much as research suggests. Many producers think of mastitis costs as the price of intramammary antibiotic tubes. Dumped milk is valued at zero because waste milk is fed to calves. The costs based on the grade of mastitis, stage of lactation, reduced peaks, lower conception rates and damaged lactation curves do not show up on your financial report so dollars lost are invisible. But mastitis affects your bottom line every day.

Now let’s identify three ways to reduce mastitis and improve milk quality with a minimal dollar investment. Both between milking sessions and during milk harvest, the number of bacteria around the streak canal opening is the single greatest risk factor for new mastitis cases. This anchors my list of low-cost opportunities to improve milk quality.


Leave predip on teats longer for more bacteria kill. All germicides kill by contact and concentration, and every class of germicide will kill more bacteria if left on the teats longer. The recommendation of 20 to 30 seconds for predip contact time is a general suggestion. All germicides are negatively impacted by bedding, milk or manure on teats. Cleaning cows entering the parlor or prewiping dirty teats before predipping will reduce the quenching of the predip germicide and increase the number of bacteria killed. Forestripping after applying predip helps loosen debris on teats, but it also removes some of the germicide, reducing the kill potential. Apply the predip, forestrip and then re-apply the predip. Try this during a period of increased environmental mastitis and watch new clinical rates drop.


Wipe teat ends better. Once a cow enters the holding pen or stands up in a tiestall barn, there are two steps left to reduce the bacteria on the teat end: the predip germicide or the towel.

Wiping teat ends requires training, encouragement and time for the milkers to accomplish the task. Rotary parlors can move too fast for milkers to accomplish the towel step with consistent quality.

The type of towel also makes a difference. Inexpensive paper towels can be like using wax paper, leaving most of the organic load behind. Cloth towels can be effective in removing debris and bacteria but must be laundered to stop the spread of mastitis organisms from teat to teat by the towels themselves.


Groom stalls or corrals better. Clean cows have less mastitis. Dry, well-groomed bedding is key to clean cows. Corrals need daily grooming and a pre-rain/ pre-snow protocol to minimize the higher hygiene scores and increased mastitis after a storm.

Adjust freestalls so 90% of cows lie against the back curb to maintain clean, dry beds. Deepbedded stalls need daily leveling with an occasional deep dig of the back one-third of the stalls. Mattresses need daily brooming and small quantities of new bedding applied daily or at most every other day. Light liming can help keep the mattress surface dry.

Improving the effectiveness of these activities can put you on the road for better milk quality in 2018 with little new investment.


Roger Thomson, DVM, is a dairy veterinarian, from Battle Creek, Mich., and the founder of the website

Note: This article appears in the January 2018 magazine issue of Dairy Herd Management

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