Bertjan Westerlaan, Vetvice, The Netherlands “Farmers need to work in a very structured way!“ (Part 2)

Bertjan – an example of a farm with problems and how you have made improvements?

“OK – let’s pick out a young farmer and his wife who have 130 cows milked by two milking robots in a new barn (constructed in 2013) designed by Vetvice. The barn has deep-bedded freestalls filled with separated manure solids. The SCC was never low in the old barn, but increased further some six months after the cows moved into the new barn; counts ranged from 350 – 450,000 cells per ml for prolonged periods.”


“The underlying problem were:

  • poor hygiene in the freestalls due to insufficient filling;
  • poor dry cow feeding (no minerals on offer, grass silage heated giving a secondary fermentation, feeding was only every second day);
  • freestall maintenance was poor (only twice a day, leaving wet spots in place);
  • no obvious strategy for culling high SCC cows and the treatment of clinical and subclinical cases;
  • low cure rates after dry cow treatment and too many new infections in the dry cow period;
  • too many incomplete milkings of heifers together with a low number of voluntary milkings of these animals;
  • lack of daily routines for robot maintenance resulting in compromised hygiene of the robot arm and teat brushes, empty barrels of teat spray and clogged spray nozzles;
  • bulk milk culturing at the beginning of 2014 showed mainly environmental bacteria, but Staph. Aureus infections developed in the second half of the year.”

“The farmers wanted a lower SCC to avoid penalties under the milk quality regulations and fewer problems with the performance of the robots. The longer-term goal was to achieve a SCC consistently below 200,000.”

“As the adviser I organised, in consultation with the farmer and his wife, a meeting with the farm veterinarian, the feed advisor and in this case with the milking robot technician; and made a summary of recommendations and an action list.”

“On this farm, robot performance was improved by making some adjustments (changed the rubber liners, longer udder preparation) and more consistent daily routines (cleaning and checking).”

“The farmer became more aware of the potential danger of high SCC cows and culled cows with a poor prognosis. The dry cow ration was adjusted and teat sealants were used at drying off. Extra attention was paid to bedding the cubicles (weekly) and their daily maintenance (three times a day, instead of two).”

“From September 2014, the number of clinical mastitis cases dropped, as did the number of new subclinical infections. By November, the bulk SCC was under 250,000 after culling some chronic infected cows. In December, the figure was 216,000.”
Bertjan – the issue of antimicrobial use?

“To reduce the use of antimicrobials and avoid antimicrobial resistance, farmers and veterinarians are responsible for the proper prescription and use of antibiotics. One example that challenges ‘common sense’ on dry cow therapy is the prohibition on the preventive use of dry cow tubes on all cows. Only cows over 50,000 and heifers over 150,000 cells can be treated with dry cow tubes. Hence, management prior to and at drying off becomes vitally important. Milk production at drying off should be less than 12 litres a day, and proper and hygienic routines are needed to avoid mastitis problems during the dry period.”
How do you see the industry developing in the future?

“In most countries, dairy farms are growing in size and becoming more professionally managed. On larger farms, with say, 75 cows and more, farmers need to work in a very structured way, ideally with a day-week-month plan and with standard procedures. Many farmers are doing this. And they need good support and consultancy from veterinarians. Vetvice has been a front-runner in supporting farmers in the process of organizing their management and work in our barn design consultancy, in our books and manuals and in our training courses. We will have to keep on looking around, learning, researching and developing to keep ahead. Here in The Netherlands, the industry is expanding, the number of dairy cows is now 1.57 millions in 17,000 dairy herds; and over 3,200 of these herds now milk with one or more robot milkers.”