Lex and Rachael Moloney named gold medal winners in 2020 Milk Quality Awards

By Dairy News Australia

After multiple silver awards for milk quality, Lex and Rachael Moloney have been named as gold medal winners in the 2020 Milk Quality Awards.

Lex and Rachael have been back on Lex’s family farm at Dixie, near Terang in western Victoria, for six years.

During that time they have overseen an increase in cow numbers from 280 to a now 500-strong, autumn-calving herd.

Throughout that period of expansion, a strong focus on herd health, investment in infrastructure and a consistent approach to mastitis management has enabled their milk to remain in the top band for milk quality.

“I don’t think we do anything different to other farmers,” Lex said.

“We are consistent in what we do. We keep a close eye on the filter sock and I check the SCC on a daily basis; when there are clots on the filter or the SCC goes over 100,000 we start looking where the issue is and strip the herd to find the culprit.

“We only strip the herd when there’s an issue, it isn’t something we do as a routine.”

The 50-stand rotary dairy is fitted with ACRs and auto teat spray. Inflations are changed every six months, with the plant serviced in line with Quality Assurance guidelines.

The increase in cow numbers has led to two full-time employees joining the farm team. Both have completed the Cups On Cups Off training course.

“It’s something we happily put employees through if they are interested, especially with less experienced staff,” Rachael said.

“It helps them develop their skills and helps the farm too, so it’s a win-win really. The guys working here now are very good at mastitis detection which certainly helps.”

Lex and Rachael have worked with their vet to develop treatment protocols for when a case of mastitis is detected.

The severity of the infection is graded and then treated accordingly, with more severe cases receiving intramuscular antibiotics and anti-inflammatories in addition to intramammary tubes.

“When we find a case of mastitis the cow is drafted out and milked at the end to minimise the risk of cross contamination,” Lex said.

“Then we will look at the cow and her history to decide on the best way forward. Cows that are treated with antibiotics are well marked and milked at the end of milking to reduce the risk of antibiotic contamination.

“We do have a fairly strict culling policy, especially when it comes to cows getting reinfected in the same lactation, particularly if it’s the same quarter. All factors are considered before deciding on the best course of action.

“If we have a few cases close together we often take samples and send them off to be cultured so that we know exactly which bug we are dealing with and can treat it accordingly.

“There have also been times that we’ve frozen a sample and then sent it to be tested if a few more cases are found.

“On-farm culturing is something we are interested in looking at. Being able to take a sample and know in 24 hours exactly what we are dealing with and have written protocols around each of the potential results is something to work towards.”

A technology that has already been embraced is cow activity monitors. The herd was fitted with collars in February this year.

In addition to the data regarding heat detection, the Moloneys have already noticed the potential for rumination information to assist them in identifying unwell cows earlier, including those with mastitis.

“Early detection of mastitis is key to maintaining a low SCC and our team are very good at that, but we are always looking for ways we can improve,” Lex said.

“With a bit more time and understanding of all the available data, I think the collars will help us further improve cow health as well as hopefully improve in-calf rates.”

When it comes to dry cow therapy, all cows receive dry cow tubes and are teat sealed.

“The first season we were back on the farm we had a lot of heifers come in with mastitis, probably about 20 per cent,” Lex said.

“We didn’t want to go through that again so started teat sealing them and now all the cows have that as well as blanket dry cow antibiotics.

“Selective dry cow therapy is something we may look into, but we don’t herd test, so I’d be cautious about not doing, say the first-calvers, then having issues in the next lactation.

“Going forward there are areas we will look to improve on, but overall, we are pretty happy with where we are at.

“We will continue to concentrate on herd health; prevention is always better than cure.

“I enjoy taking pride in what we do and in the quality of the product we produce.”