I thoroughly enjoyed sitting at ringside at 2013 World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin and applauded the Judges as they expertly placed the lineups. As 2500 dairy cattle were being placed it became obvious that the difference between the winners and the also rans often has a lot to do with the udders. At every dairy show, the Judges’ comments waxed eloquent about “mammary systems”.  Spectators too were impressed. More than once I overheard, “I would be delighted to take the bottom three in that class home to my milking string!”

For an Ontario girl travelling with the Bullvine team, the challenge wasn’t whether I could place the classes or accurately rhyme off the pedigrees of the cattle in the ring. No. For me the challenge is to come back to the table with a bigger, better, brighter story than my two geneticist and perfectionist cow men. As I watched those milking classes and thought of the practical side of dairy operations, I was inspired to take the opportunity to take a closer look at the more than 400 commercial exhibits that bring their displays, videos, brochures and energetic sales teams to World Dairy Expo.

Imagine my delight when I discovered well-informed enthusiasts who shared their passion for the dairy business from a slightly different perspective than the show ring.  It didn’t take too long for me to confirm a simple truth that I already knew. While all of us cannot achieve the udders that place 1 to 20 at World Dairy Expo, every dairy operation succeeds or fails on the quality and quantity of the milk produced every day and thus, by extension, the health and quality of the udder itself.  Thus I set out to find out what is new relating to udders and what specifically can I learn that I can share with others who seeking improvement.

Cross-Over Technology

Two companies that stand out looking back on my WDE experience, are Qscout (Advanced Animal Diagnostics) and Vi-Cor.  Both use the non-agricultural expertise, to provide solutions for dairy related issues.  Too often we as an industry can be blamed for trying to reinvent the wheel.  With so many similarities to human health, reproduction and even environmental issues, years are wasted when dairy solutions could leap forward on a parallel path.

Catch the Symptoms Before Mastitis Catches You

Dairy operations have many recurring issues to deal with, but one for the most frustrating and costly is mastitis. By the time it’s obvious, you are already losing money and days of delayed milk shipment due to the time required by commonly used current tests.  Although there are effective treatments on the market, it is exciting to consider faster less costly options.

In April 2013 Advanced Animal Diagnostics (AAD), a developer of rapid on farm diagnostics closed a $6 million dollar venture capital financing from Intersouth Partners, Novartis Venture Funds and private investors to launch Qscout™ MLD. Looking slightly larger than a car battery, the Qscout™ MLD is an easily portable unit which is used for more accurate detection of subclinical mastitis in individual quarters. With very simple, ergonomically designed operation the Qscout was a crossover envisioned from human health diagnostics by 2001 AAD founder Rudy Rodriguez

Each test on the market or in development at AAD will be processed by the Qscout™ automated reader, so producers will be able to run multiple tests on the same instrument.

The first test marketed by AAD is the Qscout™ MLD. The benefits of minimizing subclinical mastitis in the fresh cow have long been documented through increased milk yield and quality and improved reproduction.  A recent study showed detecting subclinical mastitis with the Qscout MLD and treating only infected cows at dry-off also has benefits.  Antibiotic use was cut by 47% without an increase in infection rates 10 days after calving when compared to more costly traditional blanket antibiotic treatment.  According to AAD, funds will also be used to study use of the Qscout MLD test at other times during lactation.

Gary Winter shares his enthusiasm for Qscout. “ It is new breed of technology that sees infection long before symptoms occur. It’s a brand new way to detect mastitis.  More accurate than CMT and SCC, and providing more rapid results than culture.” He backed up the claims with financial figures. “Mastitis costs the U.S. dairy industry $2 billion annually – that’s $200 per cow.  With reliable early detection made possible by QScout MLD, you can reduce that cost and generate an extra $50 per cow.” Most convincing for me was that all four quarters are individually tested and not the more common averaging which could let a cow slip below the early detection radar. An average is not nearly as useful as 4 specific tests, which is what you get with a differential cell count by quarter. Secondly, the testing takes just 3 minutes (on average) per cow. At approximately, $15,000 this technology is not cheap unless or until you accurately add up current costs incurred by Mastitis across staff time, withheld milk, medication costs and, most importantly, the effect on the healthy growth, development and reproduction of the milking herd.

Water, Water Everywhere… it’s more than just a drink

Water touches the dairy operation in countless ways from the obvious use for drinking to countless cleaning applications, not only for the cows, but for the facility, equipment and mixing into feed and medication. In fact, any applications that water have for human health, apply also to bovine health.  We are all recognize how crucial a safe water supply is to our town water systems. Bou-Matic is currently working on dairy farm applications that derive from that well-established, well-tested, statistically effective supply of water. In speaking with Tony Spaeth he outlined how test farms in the north east, north west, Florida and New Mexico are gathering results. “Phase one will focus on water supply, parlor hoses and pre-dip.  The next phases will look at hoof issues and post dip treatments.” There are four sizes of this system, ranging from $20,000 to $85,000.  Once again, the value comes from working out the savings earned from vastly improved SCC counts, healthier teat ends, and improved skin condition and the corresponding savings in reduced medication, improved health and the bottom line effect of improved herd health.

Mastitis … How Are Your Cows Behaving?

Once early detection of mastitis becomes a priority in your dairy management program, you will be attracted to leading edge technologies such as those developed by AfiMilk. With data and trials and satisfied customers backing up their claims, their tool is another that has great potential. Attachment times, flow rates, milking curves and milking times are gathered by AfiFlo and processed by AfiMilk herd management software in the computer. This data is extremely helpful in analyzing herd health and parlor efficiency. AfiFlo, combined with the AfiMilk system can detect mastitis at a very early stage. This factor alone makes AfiFlo extremely economical.

Of particular interest, is the foot monitor that by monitoring activity, including resting periods, is proving to be a valuable tool in monitoring herd health.

Udder Health — From the Inside Out

Once the subject of udder health comes into focus, you have to start looking for ways to learn more.  I had a brief but intriguing conversation with Mario Flores of ViCOR.  He described the Udder Dissection seminars that they have been conducting.  Too often he feels that we treat the udder from an outside-in, end of the teat method. He explained the physiology of the udder and that by dissecting the udder everyone gets a practical understanding of what a healthy udder looks like and the best practices for maintaining udder health.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Standing at the bottom of the line in the show ring at World Dairy Expo still sets you in the top percentile of show winning dairy breeders.

Placing at the bottom of the line in the milking line means you are less than exceptional. It also means that your profitability and sustainability is negatively affected.

Udder health must be the #1 priority. New technology is responding with innovative solutions to these issues. What are you doing to be udderly exceptional?

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