The Southeast region of the U.S. consistently has the highest average somatic cell count (SCC) of any other region in the country, but over four years of the Southeast Quality Milk Initiative project, one thing has been evident: Many dairy producers in the Southeast are producing high-quality, low-SCC milk.
To get a better idea of what high-quality producers are doing to manage a low SCC, a producer panel was formed during the fourth annual Southeast Quality Milk Initiative Meeting, held in Tifton, Georgia, in November 2016.
During the panel, three Southeastern producers, Scott Glover, Mark Rodgers and Eric Diepersloot, shared how to maintain low SCC. Glover’s family milks 230 Holsteins with a 26,800-pound rolling herd average and a 100,000 SCC in Clermont, Georgia.
Rodgers and his brother own a 400-cow herd with a 31,500-pound rolling herd average and a 190,000 SCC in Dearing, Georgia. Diepersloot is the manager of a 3,000-cow Holstein herd with a 27,200-pound rolling herd average and a 202,000 SCC in Florida. During the producer panel session, audience members asked the following questions:
What has been key to your milk quality success?
Glover: Moving into a freestall barn from a pasture-based system. By moving to a freestall barn, more attention can be paid to the cows.
Rodgers: Getting off pasture to focus on cow comfort as well as the use of technologies. The use of technologies allows us to monitor individual cow records and tend to individual cow needs. Consistency in all management procedures is very important.
Diepersloot: Using technology to access individual cow data. It was a shock moving to a 3,000-cow dairy and not having individual cow data. Cow comfort and consistency in the parlor is also key to obtaining milk quality success.
What is most important milking procedure in the parlor?
Glover: I would not give up any milking procedure. They are all important. Forestripping is perhaps the most important. It starts the milk letdown process and allows us to check for clinical mastitis.
Rodgers: We use the ALPRO system to look at graphs and milking procedure timing. We retrain milking procedures at least twice a year and when we see inconsistent timing of milking procedures.
Diepersloot: All milking procedures are important; we cannot give up any procedure without compromising milk quality. Timing of contact time or using quick-kill pre-milking teat disinfectant is especially important with a rotary parlor.
We do quarterly milking equipment and teat-end checks to complement milking procedures to make sure everything in the parlor is running efficiently.
Describe your mastitis treatment protocol.
Glover: We treat aggressively with longer therapies for most mastitis cases. If a mastitis case recurs two or more times in a lactation, the cow is culled.
Rodgers: The nighttime milking crew does all of the treatments. The crew in charge of treatments is a little more consistent and detail-oriented. The daytime crew leaves notes for cows that need treatment.
Diepersloot: All but toxic cases are treated. Toxic cases are treated with supportive therapies.
Do you use individual SCC records to make management decisions?
Glover: Yes, all SCC records are monitored. Cows with a high SCC two tests in a row are treated.
Rodgers: High cows show up a lot and make up a lot of the bulk tank SCC. We don’t take action until a cow’s SCC is above 300,000 cells per milliliter.
Diepersloot: No, black rubber mats are used in the parlor to help milkers check for flakes. While working at the University of Florida dairy, no action was taken until cow SCC was above 300,000 cells per milliliter.
Describe your dry-off procedures.
Glover: We dry off for a 60-day dry period. We use gloves and clean teat ends with alcohol pads. We use blanket dry cow therapy with teat sealant. In addition, we have a vaccination protocol and give an injection at dry-off.
Rodgers: We dry cows off once a week at the same time to keep management practices consistent for cows and employees. We also reduce milkings to bring down milk production. We practice blanket dry cow antibiotic treatment along with teat sealant.
Diepersloot: We also dry cows off once a week to keep things consistent. Dry period length is managed by dry cow herd population.
We try to average a 60-day dry period, but we will shorten it to 45 days when the dry cow pen is highly populated. We practice blanket dry cow antibiotic treatment along with teat sealant.
Is your cull rate changing because of the current market prices?
Glover: Our cull rate is between 26 and 27 percent. We cull if cows are not profitable, no matter the market condition.
Rodgers: Our cull rate is around 30 percent. We’re not trying to expand the herd, so we cull a little heavier. We have been culling the lower-end stock for dairy purposes.
Diepersloot: Our cull rate is around the high 30 percent. We cull the bottom genetics to make room for new heifers.
What are challenges facing dairy producers in the Southeast?
Glover: The loss of milk drinkers. More dairy producers need to connect with consumers and share with them the importance of what we do on farms.
Rodgers: The overall dairy economy is not in good shape right now. Many dairy farmers in the area are getting out of farming. We need to build up the industry.
Farmers can be successful in the Southeast with good, consistent management and the help of technologies.
Diepersloot: Dairy markets are making it hard to make changes and improvements to the dairy.
These producers are only a few who have proven that dairy producers can be successful in the southeastern U.S. Cow comfort and attention to detail were two trends among these dairy producers.
The panelists all said that using individual cow data to make decisions is important, and that adopting and adapting to technologies is one way to further utilize individual cow data.
One thing each producer would like to start doing is on-farm culturing. They believe the more information they can obtain about mastitis and milk quality, the more they can do to control it.
Many believe that high-quality milk is hard to produce in the Southeast, but with consistent management, detailed records and attention to cow comfort, many dairy producers are proving that it can be done.
For more information on the Southeast Quality Milk Initiative visit their website.
Derek Nolan is a graduate research assistant at the University of Kentucky. Email Derek Nolan.