by Katie Navarra

Fourth generation dairy Chambers Valley Farms, Inc earned a Gold National Dairy Quality Award (NDQA). The winners were announced at the National Mastitis Council (NMC) annual meeting in February. The Salem, NY, dairy was one of 18 dairies to win the gold distinction. A total of 165 dairies from across the country nominated for consideration.

NDQA judges considered many criteria when reviewing finalists’ applications. In addition to milk quality indicators, such as somatic cell count (SCC) and standard plate count (SPC), judges looked at specific details about each operation, including milking routine, cow comfort, udder health monitoring programs, treatment and prevention programs, strategies for overall herd health and welfare, and adherence to drug use and record keeping regulations.

“The team effort between the milkers, the herds people and management really stands out,” said Robert Ceglowski, DVM of Rupert Veterinary Clinic, LLC. “Bob provides the vision that makes it happen to get everyone on the same page.”

Ceglowski nominated Chambers Valley Farm and several other client dairies for the annual awards.

“All of the dairies I work with focus on milk quality and udder health,” he said. “The Chambers are exceptional at both those things.”

Bob Chambers owns and operates the 94-year-old dairy in partnership with his wife Kathy and their daughter Lissa. The family milks on average 940-970 cows with a total of 1100 milk cows. The family’s attention to cow comfort, cleanliness and strategic approach to treating mastitis have allowed them to continually produce high quality milk for Agri-Mark.

“Cow comfort is our number one priority,” Lissa said. “The stalls have mattresses, they walk on rubber mats throughout the barn and we mostly bed the stalls with sawdust and a little paper.”

The barns are also outfitted with fans and misters to keep the cows cool on hot summer days. The barns are well-lit and the curtains keep them warm in cold winter months. Their attention to detail contributes as much to quality as cow comfort. They rely on their herdsman, Andy Vincent and the help and technology to monitor each cow’s health daily.

“We have a good herdsman who looks for cows that are off,” Bob said. “Most of the time he catches them first, but we also use the Afi pedometers to monitor if a cow loses milk weight or has a spike in conductivity.”

If the herdsman or the AfiMilk leg sensor identifies a sick cow, she is kept out of the double parallel 20-rapid exit parlor and instead sent to the farm’s double-12 parlor built in the 1980s.

“Our second parlor is for our fresh and sick cows” Lissa said.

Two years ago, any cow with mastitis would have been treated with antibiotics. Today, they only treat a handful of cows and it’s only based on culture results. The family has learned that not all strains of bacteria respond to antibiotics. Treating each cow, even those with an organism that didn’t respond to treatment, was a waste of time and money.

The Chambers family works closely with Dr. Ceglowski to inspect the milking equipment and the pulsators to make sure the equipment is operating as it should, which also supports high milk quality.

“Our vet can test the equipment for us to make sure it is all running as it’s supposed to be,” Bob said.

Chambers Valley Farms, Inc. was established in 1925 by Bob’s grandfather. His grandmother immigrated to the United States from Scotland. They started the farm and the three sons worked into the small family farm that has continued to the fourth generation. Bob was the driving force behind the gradual continued expansion.

“A lot has changed since I graduated high school in 1976,” Bob said. “We were only milking 50 cows at the time and the technology has really helped us continue to improve our milk quality.”

In addition to earning the NDQA Gold Award, the Chambers family was also honored by Agri-Mark with a regional award in 2018. The Chambers work with their Field Representative, Ruth McCuin.

“You can’t let it go to your head,” Bob said. “Quality is an on-going thing and we always strive to be better.”

In addition to running the dairy, Bob and his brother-in-law, Kevin Keyes, operate Dry Brook Sugar House. They produce between 3,000 and 3,500 gallons of maple syrup each year.