The largest dairy farm in Latvia improves milk sales by €3,000/day simply by addressing mastitis and udder health issues.
When dairy farm manager Andris Krastiņš first started on as dairy farm manager at Latvian farm Agrofirma Tērvete in 2015, he had a huge task ahead of him. Somatic cell counts were worryingly high and chronic infection was a serious problem. In the past year, though, significant improvements have been made. Those changes are improving herd health – and the farm’s bottom line. Andris Krastiņš explains.
Established in 2012, Agrofirma Tērvete is a modern diversified farm enterprise that includes crop and biogas production, horse breeding, food retail and catering, and dairy farming. The farm employs 190 workers, and has a working area of nearly 3,000 hectares.
Agrofirma Tērvete is home to Latvia’s largest dairy farm. The farm is designed with GEA technology and employs automatic ventilation, soft bedding with mattresses, and a separate milking space for cows with calves. The milking parlour provides up to 80 places in an automatic milking rotary system. Farm capacity is 3,300 dairy cows, but currently they only milk 1,980.
In an honest and forthright conversation, Krastiņš admitted, though, that the farm was struggling with serious health issues. In January of 2018, SCC counts averaged 588,000 with 41.8 per cent of the herd at greater than 200,000 SCC. At that time, 22.4 per cent were dealing with chronic infection (including Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus), and lactation new infection rate was 23.2 per cent. Needless to say, Krastiņš had his work cut out.
One year later, those numbers have dropped significantly. At last recording in January 2019, herd SCC was 260,000 and just 21.6 per cent of the herd measured over 200,000. Chronic infection rates were down too (from 22.4 per cent to 13.1 per cent), and lactation new infection rate dropped from 23.2 per cent to 9.7 per cent.
Watching the numbers fall alarming to acceptable levels was rewarding, but getting there was hard work. To get to where the farm is today Krastiņš had to evaluate everything from milking routine and on-farm training, to equipment and bedding.
When he first started at the farm in 2015, the cows lay on loose, straw bedding. Research has shown, though, that unless well managed, a higher risk of mastitis occurs in straw bedding. Krastiņš switched to green bedding from the bio-digester and increased cleaning frequency.
In the summertime (April to November), he puts green bedding made from biodigested manure on top of mattresses, but in
wintertime he still uses straw. “In wintertime there’s not enough heat in our biogas facility, so we are using straw,” he said. “We have a lot better results with green bedding than with straw.”
Krastiņš also made changes to the milking routine. Before he used a pre-dip and used machine-washed clothes to wipe teats dry. “This wasn’t a good system,” he said.
Instead, Krastiņš switched to the Teat Sanicleanse System from Northern Dairy Equipment in the UK.
“We get a lot better results after that,” he said. “With this teat brush it’s easy, you just press one button on the equipment, you put it on the teats, and everything is done perfectly.”
The new system, he said, requires less training and is quicker and easier to use. Whereas it used to take no less than a month to train staff on the milking routine, with the teat brush, it only takes 3–4 days. And employees – there are 12 in total working four at a time – make fewer mistakes. What Krastiņš likes most about the new teat brush is that it calculates and stores data, allowing him to see when employees aren’t doing their jobs properly.
“Now you need just one person on the milking team each day that understands everything,” he said. That one person is in charge of the other three.
But the problems didn’t end there, he said. Bacteria were still being passed from one cow to another during milking. So last July, Krastiņš decided to adopt a new automatic dipping and flushing system by ADF in the UK. He was familiar with ADF, having worked on the UK farm where the equipment was first tested for several years.
He believes many of problems started with labour. Employees didn’t understand the equipment, and they didn’t know how to differentiate between teat damage and mastitis. Oftentimes, he said, they were milking too long, thinking they could get more milk from the cow. “And then you damage teat ends, and of course, you get mastitis,” he said. “This wasn’t a good start from 2012.”
In the six months since the system was installed, SCC has fallen significantly from 400,000 to around 250,000. Krastiņš attributes this to improved teat health, which limit bacteria from entering the mammary, the new hygiene and milking routines, and better employee training.
Calculating economic losses – and gains
When Krastiņš first started managing the farm, SCC was so high that he was ashamed to even talk about it. Last November, though, he stopped by the ADF stand at EuroTier to give a report on his progress and you could see he was happy with the progress he’d made.
“We had an average of 80 sick cows with mastitis,” he said. “It was a lot, and this is not good. This is the first thing that says there is something wrong with management on the farm, if you get this result.”
But it wasn’t just embarrassment Krastiņš was dealing with. It was herd health, animal welfare and ultimately, the farm’s bottom line. Milk with cell counts over 400,000 is unsellable. Krastiņš crunched the numbers at EuroTier.
Before making management changes, Agrofirma Tērvete was discarding up to 4 tonnes of milk each day. And the milk they were selling lost money on quality. Milk sells for €0.34/L in Latvia, he said, but at over 200,000 SCC the price drops to €0.29. If Agrofirma Tērvete produces 60,000 L of milk each day, but takes a €0.05/L loss on all 60,000, the farm loses €3,000 each day.
These calculations do not even begin to consider losses due to culling, nor the cost of antibiotics and veterinarian bills. The biggest cost, though, is the lost of production. On a farm the size of Agrofirma Tērvete, health issues like the ones Krastiņš has been facing amount to hundreds of thousands of euros each year. With the new management plan those losses become gains. Cows are healthier, employees are less stressed, and profits are realized.