Expert Insights

Milk Quality Improvements Start in the Back of the Barn

VES-Artex was recently joined by Dr. David Reid, veterinarian for Rocky Ridge Dairy Consulting to examine how dairies can help improve milk quality before cows reach the parlor. Dr. Reid, who is one of the foremost experts on the topic, took webinar participants on a deep-dive on milk quality elements to consider including preventing mastitis, optimizing bedding and integrating animal-centric cow handling practices to the back of the barn.

Mastitis: A Disease of Man That Shows Up in Cows

At its most basic level, mastitis is a very simple disease to understand, which in turn makes it less complicated to control and prevent. The infection rate from mastitis in cows is directly related to the number of bacteria that exist on a cow’s teats when milking units are attached.

According to Reid, a proper udder prep will only eliminate 80-to-85 percent of existing bacteria on the teats prior to milking. So, the question dairies and manager should be asking themselves is: How can we reduce the bacteria on their teats in the back of the barn?

That answer is less simple, but there are some important steps that should be addressed.

  1. When you are milking, make sure that you’re milking clean, dry, stimulated teats. If you bring clean cows into the parlor, then treat with complete coverage post-milking, that’s a great starting point.
  2. Keep it comfortable and take it slow. If you start with a clean cow that’s comfortable and moving slowly into the parlor, that means they’re less likely to experience any kind of manure splash or debris collection on their udder.
  3. To help keep cows comfortable, examine their main living environment – read the cows. What are their actions and body language telling you? Is the bedding clean? Are neck rails positioned properly, or are they too low, causing some uncomfortableness?

Comfortable cows that are getting adequate lying time won’t delay when it’s time for milking, but they also won’t be agitated or in a rush – promoting a tidy and (hopefully!) mastitis-free journey to the parlor from the back of the barn.

Bedded Bliss

Cow bedding has a huge impact on both milk quality and quantity, and the management of said bedding should be unrelenting, Reid says. Regardless of what material you’re using, sand, organic bedding or dry matter, if it’s too dry, it will blow away, so you want moisture levels to be between 60 and 65 percent moist.

“What I see in my field experience is that the dairies that bed a little bit every day have better overall milk quality, and they have better lying times,” Reid said. “And we're getting to some of the dairies now where we've got the right kind of electronic gadgets hanging on them where you can actually look at lying time and it does make a difference.”

Lean-into Your Stockmanship

When thinking about cattle handling – the simple interaction between people and cows – outcomes are either positive or negative. Since cows have long memories, they will hold onto improper handling, resulting in undue stress.

Instead, create low-stress environments in the back of the barn by minimizing pressure and try to read their responses when you are handling animals. Reid suggests that when working cattle, waving, sudden movements, and yelling must become a thing of the past. Be slow, deliberate and gentle, and the cows will respond in-kind – relaxed and comfortable.

“Remember that a cow's comfortable speed is less than your walking speed,” Reid said. “That's really important, because that gets a lot of people in trouble when they're moving cows. If we do this wrong, we get cows that speed up. And then if we have significant manure in the alleyways, we're going to get more manure splash.”

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