Milk quality has been a passion of mine for a very long time and I am honored to have worked professionally with dairy farms, dairy equipment dealers, veterinarians, milk plant field representatives, and other dairy farm professionals for over 26 years now. For over 6 years, just out of college, I worked as a dairy plant field representative for Midwest Dairyman’s Company working with their patron’s milk quality. A great job out of college where I got to work on the front lines with dairy farmers and their milk lab that did the milk quality testing. This further increased my passion on to achieve the highest quality possible. In 2000, I took an opportunity to take my love of milk quality to the next level. I have been at GEA Farm Technologies for over 20 years now working with our GEA milking equipment & hygiene dealers and their dairy farms with their milk quality, milk harvest, and solutions. I am very humbled and honored to have learned from, worked with, taught, and collaborated with some many incredible milk quality and milk harvest professionals. Many that I started building relationship with through the National Mastitis Council and local farm professionals. Currently I work with our GEA specialists with their GEA dealers and dairy farms throughout the United States. This article is focusing on the milk quality and milk harvest services that I, my fellow GEA colleagues, and our ExpertCare certified dealers do in working with dairy producers with their milk quality and milk harvest. I am a big believer in working with a dairies “milk quality team” when possible which is what the below graphic captures.
At GEA Farm Technologies, our dairy equipment and hygiene dealers are on the front lines taking care of dairies needs for milk harvest and milk quality needs. They do this by communicating and partnering with their dairies to meet their goals with services and products they provide. This is does not stop with selling them their milking equipment. They work to make sure the pulsation, vacuum, and milking system settings are optimized with the liner and the herds production level by doing dynamic & static testing, optimize the wash system to make sure the 6 requirements of cleaning are met to achieve low quality counts, implementing scheduled service programs to make sure to achieve top performance and prevent failure, help the dairy with guidance in training of milking personal in proper procedures, aligning the right teat dips based on a culture based approach and assessment of the dairy needs, and more. A big part of my job and joy over the past 20 years with GEA has been working side by side with our GEA dealers and our GEA personal with dairies all over the US doing this work. ExpertCare at GEA sums up this approach in working with dairies and is also part of training program doing evaluations to achieve a dairies goals and track with KPI’s, Key Performance Indicators.
A good doctor does not come up with a successful treatment or prevention plan without obtaining the facts to make a proper diagnosis. The same goes when working with dairies to meet their goals to improve SCC, lower cases of mastitis, achieve low milk bacteria counts, optimize milk harvest, and prevent equipment failures. You need to find out the facts first through evaluation, quality counts, culture data, and on farm records.
Milking time evaluation
I have done many milking time evaluations on dairies with my GEA dealers and colleagues. I like to start by finding out the major goals of the dairy and if there are any concerns or issues to address. There is a long list of KPI’s that I evaluate on a full milking time evaluation. The major goal of milking time evaluation is to improve or confirm milk quality, teat and udder health, milk harvest, procedures, and the environment
- Equipment: Dynamic Testing (during milking) – peak milk flow claw vacuum testing, fall test, system vacuum, and stability testing. Static Testing (not milking) – graph of all pulsators and check of system vacuum. Check settings to make sure they are optimized for best performance with the liner being used and the goals of the dairy. Review and validation of other milking system settings – automatic take-offs, cluster removal delay, etc. Review current scheduled service intervals and performance and condition of the milking equipment and replacement parts.
- KPI’s recorded: System Vacuum, Average Peak Flow Claw Vacuum, Average “A” Phase & “B” Phase “C” Phase & “D” Phases, Liner Used & Claw Vacuum Set Point, Take OFF Setting, Cluster Removal Delay, Strip Yields, Average Milking Time/Cow, Average Flow Rate, Peak Milk Flow Rate, %), Unit Alignment (% of 3s & 4s, 1=Excellent, 4=Poor), % Slip Rate (Goal =<5%)
- Cows: teat condition scoring; udder, feet and leg hygiene scoring; mastitis levels, SCC, culture information.
- KPI’s recorded: Number of Cows Milked, LBS/Cow/Day, SCC, % Hospital Rate, %Rough and Very Rough Teats (Goal=<20%) and teat skin conditioning.
- People: procedures, teat cleanliness, timing, liner and milker unit cleanliness, parlor hygiene, teat dip coverage, unit attachment and alignment, cow handling.
- KPI’s recorded: % 3 & 4 Teat Cleanliness (Goal=<15%), % 3 & 4 Parlor Hygiene (liner head cleanliness (Goal=<15), Udder Prep Lag Time (Goal=90-120 seconds), Pre Dip (Name & % Coverage), Post Dip (Name & % Coverage).
- Environment: freestall alley and bedding cleanliness, ventilation, crowding rates, and bedding cultures when necessary.
- KPI’s recorded: Stall Grade (1 to 4, 1 = Excellent), # of Stalls and % Crowding Rate, and Bedding Time & Frequency.
Performing regular milk quality evaluations on a dairy can help determine areas to make improvements. But evaluation alone doesn’t improve milk quality. The dairy’s team must be ready to make changes when needed to get back on track and be consistent to stay on track. Everyone involved must know their role and be willing to take ownership to implement change. Working milk quality partners with a dairy to has been key to many successes. I have seen many great milk quality people working with great farms out there: the herd veterinarian, the dairy plant field representative, milk quality specialists from pharmaceutical companies, and other industry professionals. When dairies keep track of their own KPI’s and share them with their employees with goals, it increases the success level. I have been honored to work with a lot of dairy managers/owners and their employees. Teamwork is essential.
Example of parlor shift report at a dairy
GEA_Sample KPI Parlor Management Report
Optimization of the wash
When it comes to producing high-quality milk, clean milking equipment is of course a crucial part to achieving this goal. All it takes is a failed drain or bad gaskets leaking air because they weren’t changed on schedule, to derail a cleaning system. And all of a sudden, bacteria counts are higher than expected. To ensure clean milking equipment, these six requirements must be met: time, temperature, water, volume, chemical balance, velocity and drainage. If one is off, your cleaning results will be compromised. To optimize washing of milking equipment, these six requirements must be met. This has been true my whole career whether we are washing a double 8 parlor, a 100 stall rotary, a box automated milking system, or a Dairy ProQ AMS rotary.
In optimizing washing, my tools are my thermometers, flashlight, chemical test kit, TriScan vacuum recorder measuring wash slugs and washing vacuum, milk quality report results, review of the farms maintenance schedules, my phone camera, my phone stop watch, tape measure, measuring cups to measure chemicals, and my notebook. I have also used an IPad for over 10 years to fill out both washing and milking time analysis reports, scoring, looking up the past record of farms, etc. It has really saved time report writing when I get done for the day.
Monitoring milk quality counts is a must as well. Many of my dealers and our hygiene specialists as have I, monitor milk quality counts online with dairies to make sure things stay on track. The below chart shows a guide in using these quality counts troubleshooting high counts. Watching the trends and getting a timeline of what has occurred or not occurred on a dairy have been very valuable in troubleshooting bacteria counts. The NMC Troubleshooting Bacteria Counts booklet and troubleshooting forms have been very valuable in my career in troubleshooting. They can be ordered from NMC at http://www.nmconline.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/2018-Publications-Order-Form.pdf
Scheduled service review
Reviewing scheduled service schedules and evaluation of replacement items like gaskets, hoses, and diaphragms is also very key in troubleshooting wash and milking issues. I have said for a long time, scheduled service should be scheduled before failure and if you have had too much failure between service intervals that needs to be reviewed and changed. The goal of a maintenance schedule should be to prevent failure and keep everyone on track with tasks to be performed. Organize by system component, with major items listed first: pulsation, vacuum, cooling, milking units, automatic takeoffs, sanitation equipment, meters and sensors. Then break it down into daily, weekly, monthly and annual tasks. Record monthly tasks on a master calendar to ensure they don’t get missed. The schedule should include the responsible party and service interval for each task. I am very pleased to work with a great dealer network that does an amazing job with scheduled service.
Records and culture analysis
In working with dairies, I want to collect all pertinent records, milk quality counts, and culture results that are pertinent to my reason for being on farm with the GEA dealer. In reviewing culture information, I like to look at both bulk culture data but also culture results of cows tested because either clinical mastitis or a high SCC. I like to correlate all culture information including bedding and udder towels to find the trend of the most predominant mastitis-causing organisms and correlate to causes (i.e.: bedding). These trends will identify the target areas to try to minimize bacteria in your cows’ environment. I also use this information to get the right teat dip prescribed to fight against the predominant mastitis-causing organisms.
Focused team approach
The best milk quality I have seen is when a dairy has a team approach both with their employees and their partners. My dealers, my colleagues, and I have been much honored to have been a part of many of those with many great milk quality professionals.
Working with a dairy helping to set expectations by having goals, testing and evaluating, making a plan of action, then the farm monitoring and always striving to be better, leads to the high quality milk! The dairies that I have worked with that meet with their team regularly have the best communication and consistency which also leads to high quality milk!
It is my honor and pleasure to share with all of you work that I do with milk quality and milk harvest on farms.
Text and illustrations: Keith L. Engel, GEA, Business development manager – hygiene