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lMSU Wins Top National Award for Quality Milk

Ike Iyioke
Dept. of Animal Science

milking cows
Cows being milked at the MSU Dairy Teaching and Research Center ooooo Photo: Ike Iyioke

For the second year in a row, the MSU dairy farm, having distinguished itself by producing high quality milk, is recognized with a National Dairy Quality Award Platinum prize for the year 2010. The award was presented to the farm’s manager, Robert Kreft at a recent National Mastitis Council meeting in Albuquerque, NM.

The MSU Dairy Teaching and Research Center is one of six working farms located on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing. It serves as a hub for teaching, extension and research and is the setting for coursework and practical learning experiences for students studying animal science and large animal clinical science and for Extension programs. Research is conducted in dairy nutrition, mammary and reproductive physiology, animal breeding and selection, manure and nutrient management, and dairy management.

The crucial question is, how did the farm attain the platinum price for a second year in a row? As it turns out, there is no secret to their success; it simply takes a dedicated staff with a penchant for keeping a close eye on the details of routine dairy management practices. From discussions with Kreft, who has worked at the farm since 1989, along with Ray Lee (student employee) and Bruce Kurzhals (one of four other full-time employees at the farm), the farm’s usual milking process has merely improved overtime with some milestone changes that management has implemented over the years.

Cow Preparation for Milking
Kreft explains that when cows walk in to be milked, they are sprayed with hydrogen peroxide-based pre-dip. “We stimulate their udders and teats for 10-15 seconds. We do 3-4 cows in a group so we have about 50-60 seconds of contact time with the dip. We wipe that dip off and strip each quarter to make sure its milk is normal, then attach the milker. The stimulation time and the interval to attachment of the milking unit are important so we get good let down. Thereafter, we use post-dip when the cows are done milking.”

The prep procedure requires all milkers to wear gloves. In addition, says Kreft, “we use individual cloth towels that are laundered after each use.” He adds, “Our milking equipment is serviced at least twice per year to make sure everything is working correctly.”

Cow Cleanliness
For bedding, Kreft says, “We switched to dry saw dust a number of years ago. We also started adding hydrated lime to our tie stalls before we put the sawdust down. The lime changes the pH of the bedding and reduces bacterial growth. There is a saying that sums it up: The most important piece of real estate on a dairy farm is where the cow’s udder lies when she is resting.”

Kreft adds that about 3 weeks before heifers are due to calve they are given a dry cow treatment, he advices that individual dairy farmers should work with their veterinarian to develop a treatment protocol specific to the needs of their herd.

“To help make it easier to clean udders during milking the hair is syng-clipped every 10 weeks. We also watch animals that are due to calve closely, if they start to leak milk we will start premilking them before they calve. Colostrum is collected, tested for antibody content and frozen to be fed to calves later,” he says.

Monitor Milk Quality & Cow Health
The dairy farm gets regular feedback from the coop that it sells milk to -- the Michigan Milk Producers Association. “I’m getting current information on the somatic cell count, butter fat, protein, raw bacteria count, and, PI count. I post the information in the break room where all employees can review it. And if there is problem where a count goes higher than normal we are real quick to see what happened and how we can fix it,” Kreft says.

Adding to that, Kreft says, “We get feedback from the Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) every 4 weeks on the somatic cell count, butter fat, and protein. And there is a “hot sheet” report that’s generated after DHIA has been here which identifies specific cows that are likely to cause us problems. We use the CMT (California Mastitis Test) to identify which quarter of those cows is the problem. We aseptically take milk samples and turn them in to the MSU Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health even if cows are not showing clinical mastitis (so long as their cell count is up). With results back, we make decisions either to treat them, perhaps dry them up early or if they have other serious problems, we might sell the cow.

Cow Health
On maintaining cow health, the dairy farm administers the J5 vaccine to help prevent E-coli mastitis. Kreft and his team also watche for other signs, “If a cow looks very sick, may be her temperature is elevated, maybe she is not eating well, or not producing milk as she should, we will use antibiotics and sometimes pain relievers to try to make her feel better quicker.”

Kreft is well aware how hard it is to get to the top, retaining top quality milk is even harder. “We have to keep doing everything as well as we can. I think some other key points are that I have good employees. I teach them as well as I can. And we communicate regularly. If I hear any new idea I discuss it with them; if they see problems or opportunities to improve they are comfortable coming to talk with me. So I just want to keep that going,” he says.

For more information about the MSU Dairy Teaching and Research Center, go to http://www.canr.msu.edu/dept/ans/community/facilities/dairy_farm.html

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