Success doesn't have to be complicated

by Kristen Davis, GippsDairy

Consumer demand continues to trend towards the desire for high quality dairy products both in domestic and export markets. One of the key contributing factors of quality is Bulk Milk Cell Count (BMCC).

Annually, Dairy Australia recognises the top 5% of farms nationally producing high-quality milk through the Australian Milk Quality

The Barlow family are first-time recipients of an Australian Milk Quality Award. Their continued attention to animal health and welfare on farm despite being challenged by incredibly wet conditions, has enabled them to receive a gold award, placing them in the top 100 dairy farms for milk quality within Australia.

Graeme and Andrea Barlow along with Andrea’s parents Ken and Marina Dixon form a four-way partnership. They run two dairy operations in Yarram, Victoria assisted by their son Jayden Barlow. These generational farms play an important role in the family’s history, with Ken and Marina purchasing the home farm in the early eighties, followed by the acquisition of the second farm in 2007. Graeme and Andrea have continued the legacy of D & B Farms Trust by entering the family partnership in 2016.

The second farm milks 401 spring calving Holsteins on 160ha of irrigated land with a milking platform of 155ha. This year, D & B Farm 2 was the successful recipient of the gold Australian Milk Quality Award. A large portion of the farm’s success can be credited to the reliability and consistency of farm managers Peter and Kim Elliott. “Having staff that know the importance and consequences when it comes to animal health as well as having an eye for detail is important,” Andrea said. It aids the Barlow’s in maintaining a healthy herd through early detection, treatment and prevention.

A focus for the Barlow family has always been on animal health, although in recent times the transition to a new processor has aided in achieving their goals. High standards set by their milk processor has allowed them to have the added emphasis on milk quality. “We have to keep up otherwise we won’t progress,” Graeme said.

Mastitis within a herd can be seen to be vastly multifactorial, requiring consistency across several areas in order to maintain low somatic cell counts. When being asked the three main drivers of low BMCC within their herd, the Barlow’s identified breeding, teat care and visual identification.

When focusing on breeding and genetics, the utilisation of mastitis resistant sires whilst also placing selection intensity on more productive individuals, promotes health and longevity within their herd. “We don’t breed replacements from repeat offenders,” Jayden said.

Although the heritability of somatic cell count variation is estimated at 8%, with environmental influences being most predominant, genetic selection is still warranted and can provide long-term benefits with relation to mastitis resistance within your herd. Tactical breeding strategies and the recent utilisation of sexed semen programs on their heifers has been beneficial in aiding progression for the Barlow’s. “It has allowed for surplus superior heifers, leaving room to compensate for culls,” Jayden said.

Culling can be a useful tool when dealing with mastitis issues within your herd, and is one of the strategic ways that the Barlow’s maintain a low BMCC within their herd. “You can’t have favourite cows that don’t pull their weight in the herd,” Graeme said. “We have a strict policy of 3 times and you’re out”. In some respects, culling is the only way to eliminate certain infections. The Barlow’s ‘no compromise approach’ when it comes to culling for mastitis, helps to reduce bacterial challenges within their herd.

The incorporation of essential hygiene during the milking process supports the family in minimising the occurrence of new infections, whilst also focussing their attention to teat care through preparation, cleanliness and ensuring teat skin health. Consistency in teat care flows through to dairy plant maintenance, where they are conscious of the need for routine checks and upgrades, a contributor to potential new mastitis infections.

In their eyes the importance of progression and development shines through. “We are trying hard to constantly improve the farms,” Andrea said. In recent years they have made improvements to both the vacuum and cups benefiting mastitis incidence within their herd.

Being a small milking team, they have the ability to individualise the herd and identify changes should they arise. “Don’t ever underestimate recognising the individual cow order when entering the shed,” Andrea said. Acknowledgement of these alterations in milking order allow you to detect and investigate potentially unwell individuals.

Simplicity is the key when identifying and isolating potential mastitis cases in the Barlow herd. Visual assessments are conducted when rises in BMCC are seen. This includes analysing udder size and symmetry, identifying redness and swelling, recognition of clots on filter socks as well as the incorporation of hand stripping.

Although herd testing is not currently used within their herd, this is a tool that they wish to incorporate in the future not only for mastitis control, treatment and prevention, but also for breeding and data purposes. When considering dry cow and calving management, the method of teat seal and blanket dry cow treatment is used. Previously, they saw a spike in mastitis cases post calving when heifers were calved down with cows. “As a result, we decided to calve all heifers down separately to cows,” Jayden said. This allows the Barlow’s to minimise the risk of infection due to heifers increased susceptibility to mastitis. “Since this transition in management, we have had no further issues with clinical cases post calving,” Jayden said.

The Barlow family have shown that you don’t have to make things complicated to achieve good results on farm, you just have to be consistent and dedicated. It comes down to a willingness to adapt and improve, whilst maintaining an eye for detail and knowing who’s who in the herd. In achieving results, surround yourself with a mindful team and be steadfast within your approach.

Find out more about the Australian Milk Quality awards and view the list of winners.

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