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Christina Petersson-Wolfe, Ph.D., Extension Dairy Scientist, Milk Quality & Milking Management, cspw@vt.edu

When we fall upon hard economic times, many dairy producers start to cut corners. This could include anything from discontinuing the use of teat dips to reducing bedding in stalls to eliminating expensive ingredients in the ration. All of these will help cut costs, but can also have negative long-term effects. For example, discontinuing the use of pre-milking teat dipping can increase the incidence of environmental mastitis and contribute to an increase in the bulk tank SCC. These effects will cause more economic loss than the cost of the teat dip itself. I suggest we look for ways to improve profitability while maintaining all the best management practices we know are effective in maintaining herd health and profitability. We can improve parlor efficiency and milk quality without any monetary inputs. Milking equipment function has a direct impact on milk quality. Therefore, now is the time to focus on ensuring a properly functioning parlor. I suggest you call your equipment dealer and make sure your parlor has had a full evaluation done within the last six months. This includes, but is not limited to, graphing every single pulsator during milking time, testing teat end vacuum at the claw, and ensuring there is adequate air in the system. A visual indicator that the system is not working properly is damaged teat-ends. Hyperkeratosis, or the ‘cauliflower’ appearance of the teat end, indicates there may be problems with the function of the equipment (vacuum too high, improper ratios on pulsators, improperly functioning pulsators) and/or improper preparation procedures. Testing the equipment, making necessary adjustments and re-testing should in turn improve teat ends, reduce machine-on time, improve parlor efficiency, lower the bulk tank SCC and improve profitability. All of which, required little, if any, monetary input.

Furthermore, I believe there are far too many mastitis tubes being used to treat chronic Staph. aureus infections. By ‘chronic’ I mean, older cows in late lactation that have mastitis on and off throughout the course of the lactation and it never seems to really ‘clear up’. Often these cows contribute more milk to the drain than to the bulk tank. These cows may or may not have been cultured in the past, but I strongly encourage you to culture these so-called ‘chronic’ cows to get an idea as to what bug(s) you are dealing with. The likelihood of successfully treating mastitis caused byStaph. aureus goes down significantly with every episode of mastitis a cow suffers. Once you have the results, I suggest you visit with your veterinarian to determine which cows warrant treatment and which cows do not. I firmly believe we can save a lot of money by reducing antibiotic usage in cows that are not likely to cure. However, this does mean working closely with your veterinarian to ensure appropriate treatment (right drug to the right bug).

Bottom line is this…cutting costs is something most producers are attempting to do during the current economic times. However, there are things we can do to improve profitability while not compromising cowhealth. I strongly encourage you to consider the options discussed in this article. Please feel free to contact me if you would like further information.


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

Publication Date

October 31, 2016

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