Once again the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon, CT played host to the Annual Dairy Conference co-sponsored by the Department of Animal Science and UConn Extension at the University of Connecticut. There was a hint of spring in the air as close to 90 people registered to receive an update on what is new in udder health management and good milking procedures. Dr. Sheila Andrew, professor of animal science and extension dairy specialist, opened the conference with words of welcome. She then introduced speaker Tom Herremans who is the Udder Health Management Consultant for IBA.
Tom has had a long and varied career. A graduate of Michigan State University he taught vocational agriculture for 10 years. For the next 31 years he worked for a dairy co-op, the Michigan Milk Producers Association, where he developed the Milker Training Schools. This program was focused on assisting producers in lowering their SCC. He has been active in organizations directed at mastitis control and has taught short courses to dairymen’s groups and at the university level. Tom reinforced the basic principles that should result in a low herd SCC. A low SSC can be achieved by concentrating on the basics which boil down to clean, clean, clean. Dirty cows equate to high SCC, a dirty environment equals high SCC, improper milking preparation and techniques equal high SCC. A gap in any of these basics will result in failure to achieve that which is achievable with careful attention to the details.
A low SCC should mean more dollars when the milk check comes, first by a higher level of production and secondly by the premium paid for low SCC milk. Tom suggests that each operation review its risk areas to determine what needs to be changed or treated. All milking practices may need to be reviewed and changes made where indicated. Milking by its very nature is an extremely repetitious exercise and bad habits tend to become routine if not identified and corrected. Cows that have high SCC must be identified and those that harbor bacteria that are considered untreatable must be culled and those that are treatable treated with the most appropriate antibiotic. Continual monitoring of the herd for SCC is critical to insuring that the level of new infections does not rise above 5 percent with 3 percent being an even better goal. Subclinical cases are the most difficult to identify and as a rule of thumb any count above 200,000 should be considered infected. It is important to remember that the cow is pretty good at curing her own problems so not every case of subclinical mastitis is necessarily a candidate for treatment.
Proper training of all milkers is critical to achieving good results. If they do not know the right way to get the job done it is the responsibility of those in charge to make sure that they do.
Congressman Joe Courtney made an appearance at the conference and brought the audience up to date on some of the issues facing the Congress that affect Connecticut agriculture. The immigration issue is high on the list and there does seem to be some movement in that direction.
Dr. Andrew introduced a new UConn faculty member, Dr. Dennis D’Amico, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science, who spoke about the challenges and opportunities for the New England Dairy Industry. His appointment involves teaching, research and extension. Dennis has as his special area of interest cheese and the opportunities that it represents. There are several value added dairy products that he listed that, in the right setting, represent opportunities to the resourceful operator. Among these are yogurt, cultured butter, special creams, ice cream and gelato, small scale bottling and artisan and farmstead cheeses. With opportunities come challenges. First come start up costs, then marketing and distribution issues together with meeting standards for hygiene and food safety. UConn is planning a series of workshops for the small operator designed to deal with many of these issues. The first is scheduled for early June.
Just before the break for lunch Joe Bonelli, associate extension educator, gave the audience a risk management program update presenting resources available to cut losses if any cropping program on the farm was adversely affected by weather related problems.
Lowell J. (Jim) Davenport, the featured speaker for the afternoon session, is a 1983 graduate of UConn with a B.S. degree in Animal Science. His wife Karen is also a UConn graduate who teaches Vocational Agriculture at the Housatonic Valley Regional High School in Falls Village, CT. The Davenports own and operate Tollgate Farm in Ancramdale, NY where they milk about 70 purebred Holsteins and a few Ayrshires. The farm has won numerous awards for the production of quality milk.
With his cows housed in a comfort stall barn Jim maintains that a hoe is the basic tool for maintaining a high level of cow cleanliness. Jim maintains that the cow is not, by her very nature, a very fastidious animal, she has few reservations about lying in a sloppy alley allowing her udder to become covered with contaminates of every kind. Milkers at Tollgate Farm are trained to respond to abnormal conditions observed during milking in very specific ways dependant on visual observations. If the milk is grossly abnormal a quarter milker is used until the problem is identified and resolved.
One might ask about the pay back for the meticulous attention to detail in monitoring the milk from each cow to insure that her milk is of the very highest quality. In his analytical approach, Jim has broken the individual costs that go into milking the herd. Given that he receives a .60/cwt. premium for his quality product he has calculated that this premium payment pays for the teat dip, the paper towels, soap, acid, sanitizer and long acting tank acid/sanitizer. In addition it covers the cost of inflations which are replaced every 1,200 milkings new short air tubes replaced every four months, milk hose tubes changed every two years and all other rubber parts that need changing. Pulsators are replaced every 3,000 hours and rebuilt at 1,500 hours. All of the above costs are covered plus about one half of the annual bedding cost for the milking herd.
When operators like Jim can achieve the results that he has, the question that every dairyman has to ask himself is: if Jim can do it so can I.