Jim Davenport is an award winning dairy farmer in New York State in the USA. He farms with his wife Karen at Tollgate Farm, near the town of Ancramdale.
M²magazine spoke to Jim about his farm and his approach to producing top quality milk, which has won many quality awards over the years.
M²magazine: Jim, you have won many awards for the quality of your milk. Tell us about them.
Jim Davenport: First of all, can I say that at this farm, we are not perfect, but we have the milk quality thing figured out.
That requires clean and healthy cows, milking equipment that is clean and works properly, a bulk tank that cools the milk quickly, a routine that follows standard practices and we pay attention to detail.
It’s not rocket science, but you have to care about your cows.
As regards awards, I have received the National Mastitis Council sponsored National Dairy Quality Award six times – the only farmer in the nation ever to do so. The award honours the production of top quality milk and our herd is in the top six in the United States.
Our milk has won the Agri-Mark co-operative’s top quality award eight times in a competition that takes place among almost 1,000 farms in New England and in New York State. We also finished second and third a couple of times, so it’s true, we are not perfect!
Our farm has received the Northeast Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) High Quality milk award every year since 1988; and we have the New York State Dairy of Distinction award, a State program that identifies farms that are well kept and well managed.
M²magazine: Can you give us a statistic to illustrate the quality of your milk?
Jim Davenport: I guess the best numbers I can quote are the somatic cell count (SCC) for my bulk tank milk as a measure of udder health; and the plate count on bacterial quality.
In the year 2019 to date my SCC averages 34,600 cells per millilitre. The lowest month was in March at 25,000 with the highest in July at 46,000 cells per ml.
On hygienic quality, for the year so far, my average Standard Plate Count (also called the Total Bacterial Count) for raw milk is 1,050 bacteria per mi; and the Lab Pasteurized count is 19 bacteria per ml.
M²magazine: So how do you do it? What is the secret of your success?
Jim Davenport: In a nutshell it’s with comfortable, unstressed, good-uddered, clean cows. And I stress – clean!
But let me spell things out in more detail.
In order to have low bacteria counts in the raw milk from the farm, all surfaces in contact with milk must be sanitized.
To me, the most critical surface is the cow’s teat.
An immaculate stainless steel part of the milking system matters not one whit if the teats are not clean!
If the teat is dirty upon attachment of the cluster you are going to get bacteria into the milk.
In the early days of my career, as a DHI supervisor while in college, and before milking my own cows, I noticed that the highest quality milk, both in bacterial count and SCC, was produced by herds with the cleanest cows.
I also noticed in the “dirty” herds that the milking machine with milk as the cleanser did a pretty good job of cleaning the teat. Even at the tender age of 19, I figured out where the missing manure went!
This is what we do to ensure that only a spotlessly clean teat enters the liner (or as we often call it – the inflation).
It starts with keeping the cows in clean conditions. Our stalls are properly sized and we bed the foam stall-mats that the cows lie on with kiln dried pine sawdust at a rate of 0.6 cubic feet per cow per day.
Before the new sawdust is put down and after removing any imperfect material, we scatter 5 ounces (140 grams) of hydrated lime on the existing bedding that was clean and dry.
Every time we push in feed to the cows, (some 6 or 7 times a day) we scape back the stalls and under any cow that has soiled her stall we are sure to get every bit of wet or dirty bedding out of the stall and pull back dry material to cover the spot.
We keep a hoe with us as we milk and we are especially careful to be certain that the flaccid teats, which have been well post-dipped, lie in a sanitised environment to let their fatigued sphincter muscles constrict without any bacterial challenges.
In the barn, we use fans, which swivel to enhance the natural airflow; and we have thermostatically controlled fans with adjustable louvered intake vents to maintain air temperature in winter.
Our milking routine
One person milks at each milking and all milkers wears milking gloves.
We forestrip, and when we grasp the teat, if it is wet with milk from leaking or from urine or dirty with manure, we dry wipe with a single-service paper towel and continue to forestrip the rest of the teats into the strip cup.
We look for any abnormal milk on the strip cup screen and would note any unusual inflammation in each quarter.
If no signs are found we dip all four teats with a non-return dipper containing a 1% iodine pre dip (with a similar concentration for post dip).
Then after about one minute we wipe all four teats with a single-service paper towel, attach the cluster with a minimum of air intake and adjust the position of the cluster using a hook on the milk line to put an even pull on each quarter.
When the milk flow on all four quarters has dropped to a trickle we pull down the shut-off button and let the remaining vacuum bleed off until the cluster drops into our hand.
We then post dip using the same dipper and dip. A crucial point with dipping is you must dip the ENTIRE teat!
This is where clean dry teats are important. With apologies to our former U.S. President, John F. Kennedy, I would say ”ask not what your teat dip can do for you, ask what you can do for your teat dip!”
Any teat dip is very effective at killing a bacterium measuring only a micron thick. However, the dip is much less effective when the pathogen is hiding under a couple of millimetres of manure!
In larger herd situations having to clean dirty teats during milking is time consuming work and is not anything the milking staff should have to do.
If a teat has manure on it we visually inspect it to be sure it is clean, (including the teat end), if it still has traces of manure we re-dip it and re-wipe it until it is spotless before attaching the cluster.
If during the preparation routine we find an abnormal quarter, we use a quarter-milker to keep the milk out the bulk tank and we sanitize the cluster before using it on the next cow.
I usually culture each abnormal quarter and await the results before deciding whether or not to treat the cow.
Lately, virtually all cultures have been “No Growth”, indicating that the cow’s immune system has been effective in defeating the pathogen.
So we monitor the quarter with a CMT paddle and when it is indistinguishable from the other three uninfected quarters, it goes up the line.
Because of this approach we haven’t treated a lactating cow in over 5 months.
If, following a culture, we were to get growth; I would treat it with an antibiotic that I know to be effective against that class of pathogen.
We dry cows off by first taking them off the milking cow ration and putting them on free choice good quality grass hay then milk them once a day until their daily production drops below 20 lbs per day.
After removing the cluster for the last time we alcohol pad each teat end allow the alcohol to dry, and then infuse each quarter with Quartermaster massaging it into the teat cistern.
We then follow with internal teat sealant for each quarter, which we do not massage. Any yeast infected cow would get the same alcohol wipe but with teat sealant only.
Back to milking
My herdsman Dave Schillawski and I do 90% of the milking.
My wife Karen has retired recently from her position as an agricultural education teacher and she has done some lately. As for relief milking and the like, six other people have milked in the last year. Some are family members, some not, but all are intelligent and I instruct them to follow the same routine.
When I train a new person to milk I usually milk with them several times showing them what to do, how to do it and explain why it is done that way.
I gradually let them do most of the milking giving pointers along the way. I tell them if they get behind to hang up a machine until they get caught up. It usually doesn’t take long for them to get into the routine and milk just the way the rest of us do.
In order to have the highest quality milk you must have somatic cell counts for each individual cow.
We are tested monthly by DHI and we get a report back from DairyOne with cell counts for all our cows, as both actual and linear scores.
It is very easy for a cow to show no clinical signs and have a very high cell count.
If I see a cow over 200,000 (linear score of 4), I CMT her and almost always it is one quarter that is the problem. That quarter is then treated, in the way I have already outlined, until it clears up.
With regard to equipment cleaning – after each milking the teat dipper gets taken apart and washed in a high quality chlorinated manual cleaner, as does the strip cup.
After rinsing in a warm organic acid rinse solution both dipper and strip cup are placed on a stainless steel shelf and allowed to dry in readiness for the next use.
If there is any dip left over, we transfer it to a clean reservoir and arrange that the next milking we end up with no extra dip.
Also in the morning, the outside of the entire milking unit is given the same scrubbing before being placed in the wash vat. In the afternoon, they get rinsed with water before going to CIP.
I would also say that I see the ability of the healthy, well-fed cow to self-cure a mastitis challenge and as I learn more about the
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