Milk quality has evolved over the last several decades from a focus on control of contagious pathogens through improvements in milking technique and blanket dry cow treatment addressing the challenges of environmental mastitis. This can be attributed in large part to the National Mastitis Council and the 5-point plan.
We’ve moved away from the smaller, pasture-based dairy with a few family members doing the lion’s share of the work to larger, highly technical farms that have a layered management hierarchy. With this increase in employees comes a need for standard operating procedures, rigorous communication strategy, and technical advances.
Entering the age of precision dairy farming and diagnostics, we have robotic milking on many of our farms, and are also seeing an increase in the use of other technologies: dairy milk production recording, component and milk quality measurements, activity and rumination monitoring. Much of this information was provided to the farms on a monthly basis in the past; now farms have it on a minute-to-minute basis, and are actively incorporating it into their management scheme.
Our approach to mastitis treatment is also evolving. Once we may have treated all cases of clinical mastitis without benefit of a diagnosis; we now use a targeted information-based approach. Although farms are currently using very simple selective media to achieve a high-level diagnosis of No Growth, Gram-positive, Gram-negative and employ a treat-no treat approach to these cases, I envision future dairies will incorporate faster, more sophisticated testing such as PCR into their daily practice.
Consumers are also driving much of the change on our farms questioning our use of antimicrobials and animal husbandry standard. Our dairy farms are becoming more proactive in mastitis prevention which is a positive for animal welfare and reduces the need for treatment. They are also become more reflective on antibiotic use in general. To wit, I see most of our dairies moving to selective dry cow treatment in the next five years. Approaches to dairy farming have changed rapidly, but the change has been good: the highest milk quality ever presented to consumers, improved animal welfare, and judicious use of antibiotics. The future for milk quality is bright.
Linda Tikofsky, DVM is based in Upstate New York. After several years in practice, she joined Quality Milk Production Services as a senior extension veterinarian. Since 2010, she has been employed with Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health as a technical services veterinarian, and now is the Sr. Associate Director of Dairy Professional Services (linda.tikofsky).