Milking the white stuff for health information

Dairy UP researchers are investigating the use of bulk tank milk and herd recording samples to predict the risks to health, efficient production, and reproductive success.

Bulk tank milk could soon provide greater insights into dairy herd health.

And this extra diagnostic tool could assist with farm management decisions and help Australia’s biosecurity efforts.

Dairy UP researchers investigating the use of bulk tank milk and herd recording samples to predict the risks to health, efficient production and reproductive success want these underutilised resources to play a bigger role in dairy businesses.

The investigative work has focused specifically on using milk samples to monitor dietary imbalance, bacteria disease, viral and parasitic infection.

Research team leader, Adjunct Professor Ian Lean, said expanding the diagnostic capability of bulk tank milk could reduce the risk of disease spread within and among herds.

“At an industry level this is vital for biosecurity — for example, testing for Mycoplasma bovis, the cause pneumonia, mastitis and arthritis in cattle — or monitoring other endemic diseases within a farm, region, or country,” he said.

“Insights from milk samples could help farmers make informed business management decisions to improve animal wellbeing, productivity and profit.”

Bulk milk tank urea and protein content are useful indicators of herd nutrition and could enable early and accurate detection of metabolic disorders, to guide intervention strategies.

Adjunct Professor Lean said an expansion in the average herd size and production across the past 40 years means dairy farm managers and veterinarians have less time to engage with individual cows.

“That’s why using milk to monitor aspects of the herd’s health could be a more streamlined and cost-effective way to prevent disease spread,” he said.

The next steps will involve the Dairy UP team meeting with industry stakeholders such as NSW DPI, herd recording organisation Dairy Express and milk manufacturers to map-out a way to put this research to work on-farm.

This project, called ‘Milk as a Diagnostic Tool, is part of a suite of Dairy Up cow-related research projects.

Other research includes investigating infectious diseases in calves, cattle longevity and heat stress.

Dairy UP is a collaborative R, D & E project for the NSW dairy industry. For more information, go to: