Teamwork is defined as "the work or co-ordinated effort of a group of people to produce a desired result or a common goal".
Nowhere is this as important as when dealing with mastitis or a somatic cell count (SCC) issue. The team may consist of:
The advantages of a team approach is that, firstly, it ensures all expertise that can make a positive contribution is involved and, secondly, members of the team will motivate each other and create necessary deadlines for actions.
Historically farmers may have thrown darts at the cell count problem, such as changing a teat dip, introducing a new dry cow tube or more commonly 'earthing' the machine to prevent any stray voltage driving cows and the SCC mad. Success with this approach has been absent or short-lived at best, and we have found it more appropriate to segment the problem and examine three major components: the milking machine, the milking routine and the cow, and the bug and the environment (diagram, right).
The SCC team needs to define the extent of the problem and any improvements they might achieve. Milk recording and ICBF analysis offer such a tool.
These ICBF reports help decide what groups or clusters of animals within the herd are affected. Is it the freshly calved heifers or is it the older cows in late lactation that are the worst affected? There is plenty of work to be done in these herds.
The cost to the farm of a high cell count problem -- including penalties, loss of production, loss of milk yield and use of medicines -- is huge. For a 100-cow herd with a cell count problem of a rolling 400,000 cells/ml the cost is estimated at around €24,000 per annum. Spending money on prevention is a no brainer.
Of all the equipment on a dairy farm, the milking machine by far does the most work. The machine technician is a key member of our team. As a vet, some considerable time is spent in the parlour sampling high-cell-count cows for bacteriology.
As a regular observer of milking machine functions the common issues seem to be:
Even with automatic cluster removers (ACRs) it's key that they are set correctly so as not to over- or under-milk.
Recently a farmer with a 200-cow herd and 14-unit parlour realised that liner change was necessary every 2.5 months to adhere to an approximate 2,000 milkings per liner change. Previous to this he had been changing his liners every six months, thereby exposing teats to a twice-daily, bug- infested massage with 'dish cloth' rubber.