We are all consumers of the wonderful dairy products we help produce, thus improving milk quality on the farm makes a difference to you as a consumer and as a producer because quality affects the profitability of your dairy.

Improved milk quality on the farm can often enhance the profitability of your dairy through premiums paid by your milk processor, reduced veterinary bills and fewer treatment expenses. Reviewing your milk quality efforts can help improve your bottom line over time and help you produce better dairy products for consumers to enjoy.

“Milk quality can be measured through somatic cell counts (SCC) or standard plate counts,” said Bradley Mills, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health. “When reviewing your milk quality program, look at the milking machine cleanup routine as well as the cow’s care and environment. These all play a factor in improving milk quality.”

Milk machine cleanliness
While it sounds simple enough, reading labels and following directions will improve cleanliness in the milking system. After milking is completed, it’s important to rinse and wash the equipment and perform the entire cleaning cycle.

“Many times we’re rushed for time, but letting the cycle run as directed will help prevent buildup,” Mills said. “Additionally, it’s key to work with your equipment dealer, chemical supplier or milk quality specialist to ensure you are optimizing the cleaning cycle.”


Reading the instructions, working with the experts and understanding labels will help you optimize the temperature during the rinse and wash cycles and ensure the proper chemicals are being used. The correct amounts of chemicals also need to be used and, of course, the machine must work properly for the cleaning to take place properly.

Cow health and her environment
As cows go through their different lactation cycles, it’s always important to have them housed in a clean, dry environment. This will decrease their exposure to bacteria and, in turn, reduce their chances of developing mastitis. Even on the cleanest, driest of dairies, however, there is still the need for disease prevention, which leads to improved milk quality.

“During a cow’s dry period, it’s important to prevent new infections,” Mills said. “Using a teat sealant will help prevent bacteria from infecting the cow. Additionally, core antigen vaccines should be given to dry cows to help protect them during the early fresh period, when they are most vulnerable to disease.”

Utilize a proper milking routine
Once the cow calves and is back in the milking routine, proper sanitation will ensure a clean environment and a lower chance for infection.

“Milkers need to properly clean teats, specifically the teat ends, prior to milking,” Mills said. “It decreases the bacteria count of milk and decreases intramammary infections by removing the bacteria prior to milking.”

As part of the milking routine, Mills recommends stimulating the cow so she can have a fast and efficient milk-out. Gently massaging the teats and doing a proper stripping will help the cow milk efficiently and provide the opportunity for early detection of clinical mastitis.

“If you do detect a cow with clinical mastitis, under consultation of your herd veterinarian, you’ll want to develop an effective treatment regimen, which involves extended therapy with an approved intramammary product,” he added. “By using extended-therapy treatment on mastitis cases, you’re more likely to obtain a bacteriological cure and thus lower the risk of re-treating the animal.”

When asked about mastitis, most producers think of the symptoms of clinical mastitis which causes flakes, clots or clumps in the milk. Systemically affected cows are often off feed, running a temperature or acting lethargic.

Different from clinical infections, the impact of subclinical mastitis can be measured but there are no visual signs of the infection.

“Subclinical mastitis is often hidden,” said Mills. “If you aren’t testing for subclinical mastitis, you may not know you have it in your herd.”

Unlike clinical mastitis where physical symptoms are evident, subclinical mastitis must be determined through testing and cultures. Depending on the situation, the producer may be testing cows individually through the National Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) or monitoring bulk tank SCC to identify overall herd SCC changes.

Work with your veterinarian to determine the proper method of treatment for a cow with subclinical mastitis. Many factors impact the effectiveness of the treatment including proper identification of the mastitis pathogen, age of the cow and length of treatment. Each of these factors can affect whether a cow can be successfully treated and return to the milking herd.

Once the cow with normal milk is milked, a proper post-dip should be used. This conditions the teat skin and removes the milk film while killing any bacteria that might get into the teat.

“Simple steps like these make a difference and can lead to healthier cows, cleaner equipment and, in turn, improved milk quality – something everyone is striving for on the dairy,” Mills said. PD

References omitted but are available upon request at editor@progressivedairy.com

—Excerpts from Pfizer Animal Health news release