Maybe you’ve seen this happen. You’re so confident in yourself and your milking team that you consciously or unconsciously have started skipping a few steps. Or, you have gradually taken on new staff – perhaps a family member or someone selected from the wider community — and you assumed that you didn’t need to review or test their understanding of milking basics because, after all, they know all about it. Then suddenly you’re presented with proof of low milk production and you don’t know how it happened. It just sneaks up on you. Fortunately there’s always a reason. In this case, it’s up to you to find both the cause and the solution to declining milk production.
Are Your Records Measuring Up?
You have to start with your records. If you cannot clearly identify the problem, you will find it doubly hard to come up with a way to solve it. Ideally, your milking team is well aware of the benchmarks you are targeting. Check your records and see if gaps have developed in the achieving the following goals:
- SCC UNDER 200,000. Evaluate the herd for a high incidence of subclinical or clinical mastitis.
- CMT: 70% of the herd with linear score of 1 and 2
- TEAT HEATH: 80% of the herd with no teat end problems. Erosion, eversion, cuts or sores dealt with on a scheduled basis.
- AVERAGE DAILY PRODUCTION: minimum of 70-75 pounds of 4% fat corrected milk.
- PEAK PRODUCTION: Set parameters so that you know if heifers and second lactation or older animals are reaching peak production.
- LACTATION LENGTH: 290 to 310 days with an average length of 296. Anything less than 270 days is considered a short lactation.
- DRY PERIOD: Check to see if dry cows have had a dry period of not more than 6 weeks.
- Re-check milking procedures. Double check for efficient milk practices.
- Take milk samples and run culture and sensitivity tests.
- Screen rations or individual feeds for molds and mycotoxins.
- Test milking equipment. Poor letdown can be caused by extremes in vacuum.
- Test rations and forages to identify deficiencies or imbalances.
- Test to find toxicities from chemicals, fluoride and other chemicals.
- Test water for impurities or anything that might lower intake.
- Stray voltage should be examined when other obvious factors appear normal.
There are obviously other tests that can be performed based on your individual goals and strategies. The point is not the number of tests. It is about the quality of the data that you have for informed decision making.
Don’t Assume You Always “Know” Best of “Do” Best.
Faulty milking practices always contribute to lower milk peaks and shorter lactations.
- Let-down: Poor milk letdown obviously has a negative effect on milk production. There are many causes that can be determined and managed. Some cows need a second stimulation to fully let down their milk. This needs to be recognized, recorded and allowed-for in the milking routine SOP.
- Too soon or Too Late. When the milking machine is attached is very important. After proper prepping, milking should be within 0.5 to 2 minutes. Being put on too soon or too late after preparation causes problems.
- Too long. When the milking system requires more than six minutes of machine time per cow, problems can arise.
In the dairy business, you must keep constant vigilance to avoid bacteria. You don’t want it to infect the milking cows. You don’t want it in the milk. It’s false economy to save time or money by skipping cleaning procedures. In the end, you could be facing a problem that is not only hard to eradicate once it has set it, but in some cases could mean the loss of cows.
Back to Basics to Turn Around Low Milk Production
Now that you have some numbers to work with, it’s time to go back to the beginning. It’s like baseball, which I love. Batters (especially the good ones) are known for stripping down their swing and rebuilding it. However, the rebuild has to have a foundation. It’s not enough to continuously tweak something here, and something else there just because your stats are “suddenly” showing that you are striking out more often. When you do that, you get so far from the foundation that it becomes all miss and no hits! Batters (and their coaches) start at the beginning, rebuilding piece by piece, doing the hard work of getting back to the basics. They do the hard work of rebuilding by grinding through what was once simple, all over again.
Here’s the Secret
Make sure you have your Standard Operating Procedures in place, and that everyone knows what is expected. The secret to success isn’t about making your own rules. It’s all about rules that are effective and that everyone completes properly – every single day – exactly the same way. On dairy operations, there is a risk of slippage (or suddenly being faced with low production) the moment we think we no longer need the foundational elements that made us successful milk producers in the first place.
Nine Basic Steps that should be Part of Your Standard Milking Procedures
- Dry-wipe dirt and debris from the first cow’s udder.
- Pre-dip all four teats with the green dip cup.
- Strip two squirts of milk from each teat and observe for abnormal milk. (*You should have a SOP in place for dealing with abnormal milk.)
- Return to the first cow and thoroughly wipe with a clean towel.
- Attach the unit to the first cow and adjust.
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 with the second and third cows in the side.
- Begin at step 1 with the fourth cow on the side and repeat procedure with each group of 3 cows until all 12 units are attached.
- When all units have detached, post dip all cows and release.
Once again the perfect SOP is not necessarily these exact eight steps. The best SOP for milking procedures at your dairy is the one that is developed by your milking team, practiced, revised and performed daily, and that gets the best production from the milking herd. No surprises!
Eat Well! Live Long! Milk Often!
As discussed so far, there are many little things that can add up to the significant problem of declining milk production. If none of the preceding scenarios are contributing to your situation, maybe it is time to look at the age of your cattle, the nutrition provided for your herd and finally, milking frequency. Consider this three-point proposition: 1. Cows who live longer milk more. 2. Cows who eat more give more milk. 3. Cows who are milked more often give more milk. After all, cows need optimum health and energy to produce to optimum levels. With the right nutrition in place, then check your system to reduce the stress and strain. More frequent milking can be another way to enhance udder health, increase production and extend the milking life of your cows.
Time to Test Again!
Perhaps you have come full circle in your strategic review, with all of your staff involved, and you are certain that all the SOP procedures are being followed by all milking staff. At this point, any problems in milking performance that are discovered must be a result of a more severe deficiency either in the design of your SOPs or with the health of your herd. Call in your consultants: nutritionist, veterinarians, feed suppliers or other dairy peers whose opinion and objective viewpoint can give you a different perspective. It’s never too late and getting the best data is the place to start. Information is the key. So once again in addition to the testing previously outlined, the following information should be tracked and posted:
- Somatic cell counts
- Standard plate counts
- Preliminary incubation counts
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Don’t blame your cows. Consistently good milk production is all about doing the simple things. It is built on the foundation elements that we know we should do, over and over, day after day. Success means following a few of the most simple rules and following them correctly and consistently. It isn’t glamorous but perfecting the basics works whether you’re goal is hitting home runs or milking a high producing dairy herd. Remember don’t blame your cows for lack of production…you’re the problem, and you can be fixed!