Focusing on milk quality

For the past week, milking time has been going smooth and efficiently.

Once in a while than the rogue Pickles seems to be unable to comprehend that her head needs to face the wall, not the people in the parlor. It’s rather difficult to milk a Jersey cow that has her head, instead of her udder, nearest the milking units.

I tell Steve she does that, “because she loves me. I can’t help it.”

Steve says I need to discontinue “going into the holding area and petting her between milking groups. She’s just looking for more affection.”

I laugh at her shenanigans; Steve grumbles.

She’s just so cute. I don’t know how he can get so grouchy at her. Even though she tends to disrupt the efficiency of getting cows in and out of the parlor in that particular group, the rest of the cows are going gang busters in production and quality.

As I milked Wednesday morning with Russell and Brandon, I was silently thinking to myself about how great dairy farming has been going. Hey, me being quiet while milking with two teenagers is a big thing. I am rarely quiet in the parlor.

Prior to this week, we had been experiencing a few issues with milk quality. So it is a relief to not have the worry about treating so many cows for mastitis. It really is a pain to have to separate milk from treated cows.

Many of our colleagues would argue with me and say that our milk quality “is just fine.”

In fact, just a few weeks ago I was talking to my dad, who knows a lot about dairy farming, about how I was concerned because we were struggling to keep the somatic cell count down below 200,000.

“What is your count?” he asked.

“It’s been averaging between 160,000 and 180,000,” I said.

“That’s a great count. What’s wrong with that?” he asked. “I wouldn’t be complaining at all.”

I had to explain that I had recently received a report from the creamery showing a somatic cell count of 130,000 and that set a new standard in my book. If it can happen occasionally; it can happen more regularly.

As a refresher, somatic cell counts tell the dairy producer how “healthy” a cow’s udder is. Think of somatic cells as white blood cells, because they fight infection in the udder of a cow. Some dairy herds really, really focus on having somatic cell counts that are below 100,000. Other dairy producers focus on other areas in dairy production such as cow comfort. Each dairy farmer has to work with what he or she believes is most important. So, while we work on cow comfort, I put more work into keeping the somatic cell count lower. Steve focuses on keeping the protein and fat levels in line; Zach focuses on reproduction statuses of the cows.

When I receive the daily reports, it’s showing information from the sample of milk the milk truck driver takes from our bulk tank. So the somatic cell count is the average of all the cows whose milk is going into the bulk tank for the previous night and that morning’s milkings.

Because our co-op pays extra for quality milk, the lower the cell count, the more money I have coming into our checking account. No, it doesn’t go into my pocket. Unlike most households, Steve takes care of the checkbook, and I have to ask for any extra spending cash.

Monday morning, when my daily quality text from the co-op showed up on my phone, I was elated, and shocked. I haven’t seen a count like that one for an extended time.

According to the lab’s test, the somatic cell count from the bulk tank sample was 120,000!

For months, I have received daily reports of counts hovering around 150,000.

This was only the second time that the cell count has been this low.

Seeing that low of a count pushes me to try to get even higher-quality milk going into the bulk tank.

There are several ways to keep improving the quality of our milk. First, I have to convince our employees to milk in a consistent manner.

Most of us do. It’s that guy that’s the patriarch around here that has a different prep procedure.

And he calls me a rebel. Hmph.

He doesn’t follow the specific plan, even though I have several signs in the parlor showing the correct prep procedure and I have thoroughly discussed this during his job reviews. He has admitted to me that I will probably never get him to change his tune. He seems to think he needs to prep his way in order to keep up with all the rest of us that would qualify for the Olympic Trials if milking were an Olympic sport.

(For the record, we ban performance enhancing drugs by employees here on the farm. Hopefully I don’t ever see one of our trusty team mates on Oprah Winfrey recanting their story about working on our dairy farm.)

Another item we could work on is possibly using cloth micro-fiber towels, instead of a paper-based towel, to prep the cows. The only thing stopping me from using those nice soft towels on the cows is, well two things actually: price and extra laundry.

I don’t care for doing laundry the way it is; using cloth towels would add at least an extra load of laundry every other day. I would definitely purchase enough towels to make it through two days of milking. That adds up to 520 micro-fiber towels. Uff da.

Do you know how much those towels stick to other items in the wash load? With the static cling they create in the dryer, if I wash them all I once, I fear I would have a wad of towels the size of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.

For now I think I am going to concentrate on getting those towels. I hope it helps us lower the somatic cell count so our daily reports average 120,000.

For questions, or comments, e-mail me at

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