Milk Recording – can you afford not to?

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The old adage ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’ is often used in business and it holds true for dairy farming, writes Neville Graham, Head of Farmer Services, Dale Farm.

For some, milk recording is viewed as an ‘added extra’ or a ‘nice to have,’ when, in reality, it should be the norm on every modern dairy farm.

The abundance of management information provided by milk recording is key to measuring and monitoring progress and identifying areas for improvement.

Somatic Cell Count

The main driver for most farmers wanting to milk record has traditionally been to get regular, accurate Somatic Cell Count (SCC) information. This information is key to identifying problem cows and can highlight cows to hold out from the bulk tank, cows which need treated, or potentially those to cull. Following up on these actions could move a herd into bonus for SCC which would be a minimum of 0.2 ppl for a bulk SCC inside 200,000/ml. More recently, farmers have become interested in reducing antibiotic levels in dairy systems.

Monthly SCC information allows this to become a reality as low SCC cows with no clinical mastitis cases can be identified at drying off and treated with teat sealants only, as opposed to using antibiotic dry cow therapy in a blanket approach. 
Removing antibiotics is also a significant cost saving measure, with savings up to £5/cow. With these cows, there is no risk of a costly antibiotic failure following calving, when the milk is returned to the bulk tank.

Components

Another key advantage of testing cows individually is that it builds up a picture of which are the best cows for fat and protein. Once the best cows are identified, they can be mated to higher component bulls and the lower ones could be candidates for beef bulls or if there are sufficient replacements, they may be placed on the cull list. Using this information to breed for better milk solids means significant bonus payments can be achieved. A modest increase of 0.1% in fat and protein could yield an extra £40 per cow per lactation or £4,000 across a 100-cow herd.

Fertility

The cost of infertility is widely regarded as one of the major factors impacting the efficiency of any dairy herd. Numerous reports have tried to quantify the cost of infertility and published figures have varied from between £3 and £5/cow/day for every day the calving interval is above 365 days. Even at the lower level of £3 cow/day, where a herd reduces the calving interval by one week, this is worth £21 per cow or £2,100 for a 100-cow herd.

Milk recording allows a monitor to be kept on calving interval across the year and means that adjustments to breeding practices can be tracked. The Dairy Herd Management programme offered by Dale Farm also includes ‘Mobile Herd,’ a free of charge App which allows services, PDs, calvings and dry events etc to be recorded at the touch of a button without having to go onto the online programme. A comprehensive online analysis programme also means areas such as conception rates, days to first service and days between services can be determined.

Pregnancy

PregCheck is a milk-based pregnancy test which can be carried out using the existing milk recording samples. It is a highly accurate, non-invasive way of confirming pregnancy in milk, based around identifying the presence of a specific glycoprotein associated with pregnancy. This test is increasing in popularity and can be used to accurately determine a pregnancy from 28 days following service. In many instances, it is also being used as a check test around 80-100 days post service to confirm the pregnancy is still viable.

Nutrition and Breeding

For producers wanting to monitor the nutrition of their herd, milk recording offers valuable information. Many farmers now work with nutritionists who can monitor milk yields, components, milk urea levels, ketosis and acidosis risk, if given web-based access to the milk recording data.

The same process holds true for farmers wanting to share sire information with breeding advisors or fertility information with vets. The ability to access this information remotely before coming onto a farm is invaluable for advisors such as these and means that problems which might arise on farm can be identified quicker and more effectively, ultimately improving profitability and efficiency on the farm.

Health

With the evolution of milk recording, producers can monitor their disease status through milk samples. This can be on a bulk tank basis, for diseases including BVD, IBR and Johne’s.

However, for a disease such as Johne’s, bulk tank testing has its limitations and a much better option is to test individual cows. 
For herds that have a known Johne’s problem, it is recommended to test the whole herd every quarter, while for those wishing to get an indication of whether there may be any problems, a 30-cow screen of the older animals is a good option. Milk testing for Johne’s is easily implemented into the normal recording routine, using the same milk sample and is much more cost effective than blood testing.

With such a wealth of information available from a single milk sample, acting on the results to achieve modest gains in performance will easily generate a fourfold return on investment. To find out more about milk recording with Dairy Herd Management, please contact Dale Farm’s David Patterson on 07900 248 073 or Gary Watson on 07771 706 423.