Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Make the decisions for good milk yield in winter

Producing quality milk for a decent price is do-able if you choose your options with care

There has been a big improvement in milk quality.
There has been a big improvement in milk quality.

Don Crowley

Every winter, some dairy farmers consider the possibility of continuing to milk their cows in an attempt to boost overall milk sales. In fact, this winter could be one of the most tempting for the foreseeable future as it becomes more likely that the country will still be under quota next March.

Given that this is an unlikely scenario in the run-up to the dismantling of quotas in 2015, coupled with many outstanding bills remaining unpaid from last year, many producers will be weighing up their options for the coming months.

However, it is not a decision to be taken lightly. The supply of quality milk during the winter period is a bigger challenge than at any other time of the year. When milking during the housing period, attention must be paid to issues such as cubicle maintenance, late lactation cows and housing hygiene. Quality bonuses and premium prices are at stake.

Two of the biggest issues affecting quality milk during the winter months are somatic cell count (SCC) and lactose.

Lactose is a natural sugar occurring in milk which gives milk its sweet taste. It is synthesized in the cow's udder and its average content in milk varies between 4.50pc and 4.80pc.

Milk lactose is very important and reflects the processing potential of milk and dictates the range of products which can be produced. It is also an indicator of cow milk yield. As milk lactose decreases, milk volume decreases, SCC increases, yields will drop and corresponding lactose levels will drop.

Decision time

Supplying quality milk through the remainder of the season requires careful management and important ongoing decisions to optimise yield and milk price. A herd of cows should be assessed and decisions made in the best interests of the cow.

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The priority is to produce as much quality milk in as cost efficient a way as possible during these crucial months.

Decision 1: Any thin or lame cows should be dried off and given every opportunity to heal and gain condition for next season.

Decision 2: All high-cell-count cows should be dried off. An extra-long dry period with a suitable treatment regime will give them every opportunity to heal for the next lactation.

Decision 3: Scan all cows to identify potential calving dates, if your records for serving are poor this will give you back up to identify ideal dry dates.

Decision 4: Dry off any cows yielding under nine litres a day.

The longer grass can be kept in the diet the easier it will be to keep lactose levels at optimum levels. Yields will be kept up and SCC can be maintained at a satisfactory level.

During the winter months milking routines should be adjusted to minimise the rise in SCC and reduce mastitis incidence. The following programme is giving excellent results.

  • Run scrappers at least every three hours. This will help keep cubicle beds clean and dry.
  • Lime cubicles twice a day and use a disinfectant lime product such as Stalosan F or Prosonex once per week to disinfect cubicle beds.
  • Pre-spray all cows and dry wipe with a paper towel.
  • Dip all clusters in peracetic acid after cows with a SCC of over 200,000. Change after 12 clusters dipped in solution.
  • Post-spray/dip all cows after milking.
  • Wear gloves during milking.

While time consuming, this procedure will greatly help stop the spread of contagious mastitis, prevent environmental mastitis and help maintain a low SCC level through the winter months.

With high milk solids, good-quality feed in the pit and field, and the strong possibility of no quota, winter milking provides a great opportunity for some farmers to gain extra income.

But there is no point milking through these months if quality milk cannot be produced.

If SCC is an issue on your farm, don't be tempted -- dry off the herd and get them right for next year.

Irish Independent