AFTER YEARS on the cusp of the dairy industry’s top prize for milk quality, Yarroweyah dairy farmer Chris and Nicole Hibberson have been announced the 2019 winner of Dairy Australia’s Milk Quality Awards.
Maintaining a focus on mastitis management and milk quality has resulted in better outcomes for herd health and the bottom line for the couple after it purchased its 90 ha flood irrigated dairy farm.
Producing high quality milk comes down to three factors — maintaining excellent teat condition, early detection and treatment of mastitis, and herd testing the 220-cow, split calving mixed herd.
“I’m finding really good teat condition is the best way to control mastitis,” Chris said.
Chris is often in the dairy and keeps a close eye on the herd and milkers.
He routinely uses a chlorhexidine teat spray in the dairy and teats are kept clean and inspected for any abnormalities at every milking.
“Identifying and treating cows when they first come in is one of my secrets to keeping a low cell count throughout the whole year,” Chris said.
When a case of mastitis is identified, Chris uses an intermuscular antibiotic to treat all four quarters, rather than treating quarters individually.
Cows are clearly marked after treatment for ongoing monitoring and management.
A major challenge for the business is addressing spikes in cell counts immediately after calving.
As a preventative measure, all cows receive dry cow treatment, which treats existing infections that were not cured during lactation and reduces the number of new infections during the dry period.
For one to two months following calving, all cows are stripped weekly, and more often if heifers are prone to mastitis.
Not only does this help to detect clinicals, it also helps to accustom cows to the milking process and provides an effective signal for milk let-down.
In early lactation, Chris checks to see that all cows have been milked out properly.
Keeping the cows calm is important, as calm cows kick the cups off less often, have better milk let-down and move through the dairy more easily.
Machinery and rubberwear is also serviced regularly to harvest milk efficiently and maintain healthy teats.
Chris says he has seen improvements in his Bulk Milk Cell Count (BMCC) of 20 000–30 000 cells/ml in changing his rubberwear from round to triangular liners.
Teat condition is not just managed in the dairy — Chris is a firm believer in providing enough shade to cows in the hotter months to reduce the risk of health problems including mastitis, especially for his autumn calvers.
When cows experience heat stress in late pregnancy, it suppresses their immune system for several weeks, leading to a higher risk of mastitis.
Chris aims for a yearly average around 60 000 cells/ml.
This number spikes after calving, but Chris believes that addressing any issues early puts his cows in a better position for the remainder of the lactation.
“From around three months, the cell count drops right back, even as low as 40000 (cells/ml), and I have very few mastitis issues, so it saves on the vet bills.”
Herd testing is conducted once a month to allow Chris and Nicole to make informed decisions about their herd during a tight season.
Herd testing assists them to see which cows are more prone to mastitis and how they respond to treatments.
Chris does not believe there is any special secret to maintaining milk quality, but instead believes in making incremental gains across the business.