The size of the dairy farm will determine the characteristics of a milk quality program. We work with farms ranging in size from 2,000 to 10,000 milking cows. On these farms the people who make decisions are not the same as the people who do the work. It implies that the key to a successful milk quality program is not only the understanding of good practices by dairy managers, but also requires that quality work is done by the farm workers. Therefore, the consultant’s work is not only to provide advice, but also to offer work organization plans and strategies to teach, train and monitor the workers.
A milk quality program should start by setting up a management team that includes the milk quality consultant. The mission of the team is to assist dairy managers in the assessment of their current situation. The program then puts together an action plan that addresses current problems at the dairy; and develops work organization tools, standard operating procedures, educational materials, and monitoring and decision-making tools. Monitors need to evaluate the systems (milking routines and parlor, housing maintenance, equipment cleaning, milk cooling, etc.), as well as the employees. Timely monitoring allows for rapid intervention when deviations occur and provides prompt feedback to workers.
Finally, milk quality programs should not only attempt to reduce the incidence of mastitis and improve milk quality, but must also ensure that the product does not entail risks to public health and that the production system satisfies the expectations of consumers. Improvements in milk quality benefit not only the farmer, but also the industry and the consumer:
- For the Farmer: reduced economic losses, value added to the product and risk reduction
- For the Industry: an increase of the yield, quality and shelf life of the final product
- For the Consumer: quality products made according to the best standards of animal welfare, environmental stewardship and the controlled use of antibiotics that increase confidence in the product.
Key components of the mastitis control program include:
- Audits related to parlor monitoring (the milkers, cow-side, and equipment observations, and analysis of records generated in the parlor), as well as stall and cow hygiene monitoring (weekly)
- Clinical mastitis (weekly) and SCC (monthly) records evaluation
- Work organization and workers training activities (as required)
- Field trials and cost-benefit analyses for decision making (as needed)
- Laboratory support (daily, 7 days a week).
Dr. Alfonso Lago is the Director of Dairy Herd Management and Contract Research Solutions at DairyExperts, Inc. which is a dairy cattle research, consulting and laboratory firm based in Tulare, California. He founded the company six years ago and will move into state of the art research, educational, and laboratory facilities by the end of the year. Growing up in north-west Spain, Alfonso studied veterinary medicine and worked in a dairy cattle practice for three years. Thereafter, he moved to the United States where he undertook a Residency Program in Dairy Production Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Ph.D. with a minor in Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. His graduate research focused on the evaluation of the selective treatment of mastitis. At DairyExperts, Alfonso conducts studies evaluating the efficacy and cost-benefit of management strategies, technologies and products related to dairy cattle health or production; and he directs the consulting services.