5 Smart Ways to Save Money when Milk Prices Plummet

Published on: 15:53PM May 07, 2015

Management tips to help you improve your herd’s milk quality and your bottom line.

By Tom Lorenzen, Alltech On-farm specialist

2015 could be a challenging year to maintain profitability on the dairy. As Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois, stated in a recent press release, there are some “golden rules” when it comes to dairy nutrition that should never be broken, even when milk prices plummet.

When milk prices drop, it is also important to review dairy herd management. Milk quality starts from the top down. As owners and managers of your dairies, the quality of product leaving your farm is your responsibility.

These five management tips will help dairy producers improve their milk quality and their bottom line:

  1. Cows and Their Environment: High producing cows need to spend 12-14 hours lying down on a clean, dry and comfortable bed. Stop, look and listen to the cows in their stalls. By moving the neck rail up and ahead, we can provide more “valuable” inches of space. A cow comfort audit should include an assessment of the facility for meeting the behavioral and safety needs of the cow including signs of injury, lameness, or behavioral abnormalities. Clean cows mean less time wasted and less employee labor in the parlor preparing the cows for milking.
  1. Overcrowding:  Overstocking leads to dirtier cows and more work for the milking techs cleaning and prepping the cows in the parlor, resulting in reduced parlor efficiency and milk quality. There should be one stall per cow. Loose housing cows should have 150 square feet of resting space. They need 30-36 inches of feed bunk and a minimum of three feet of available water area per 10-15 cows. Overcrowding is a major contributor to animal stress, increased incidences of mastitis, increased somatic cell count (SCC) and lower milk quality that does not necessarily show up until 60-90 days after calving.
  1. Cows like Cowsistancy:  Start by milking at the same time every day. All milking techs need to follow the same routine in a calm and quiet manner. Are you using the “cow moving gate” (crowd gate) effectively? The milking techs should be down in the parlor prepping, addressing liner slips or post-dipping cows.
  1. The Milking Equipment:  Teat end condition and integrity are important in maintaining high quality milk and reducing incidences of mastitis. If the milk hoses are too long, “loops” in the milk hose can cause slugging of the milk, which can affect end-of-milk time with automatic detachers, thus increasing milking durations. Twisted liners, poor maintenance of claws, pinched valves, gasket wear and worn hoses can adversely affect milk ability and increase new mastitis infection rate. It also can affect the cow behavior in the parlor or barn and may lead to teat end damage.

Automatic takeoffs need to be set to maximize end of milk settings and complement proper milking routines. The better the milking routine, the higher end of milk settings (shorter milking durations), which means cows spend less time in the holding area and parlor and have more time to eat, drink and lay down.

 Post dipping of teats is important. Often dip is applied incorrectly and wasted. Teat dip use and price are often the largest expenditures, accounting for 18 to 47 percent of supply costs on dairies.

  1. The Milking Routine: Milk can be either gained or lost with a good or inconsistent milking routine.  With a calm and consistent milking routine, at each milking and by each employee, you can increase milk yield by five percent while reducing unit-on time. For each minute the milking unit is attached, there should be at least 6.5 pounds for 3X herds. The first 25 pounds should require no more than 4 minutes.  Each additional 10 pounds should take less than 1/2 minute.

There are no “magic bullets” in producing quality milk. It is the “little things” that may not require a major investment to improve quality milk production in your herd. Remember: always do what is best for your cows and they will reward you!

For more information, visit www.alltech.com.