When we are working with cows every day, we often don’t realize just how fast the dairy industry is changing. But consider this: In the 1950s, 50 to 60 percent of cows in the United States were still milked by hand.
“That’s really not that long ago,” said Pam Ruegg, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s milk quality specialist. She brought up that fact during her presentation at the Lely FMS Conference held in Fair Oaks, Ind.
In the last 60 years, we’ve gone from hand milking to milking machines, to parlors, and now to robots. Yet, despite these tremendous advancements in milk harvest, Ruegg pointed out that most of what we know about controlling mastitis was figured out in the 1960s and '70s.
Ruegg came to that conclusion after studying years worth of milk quality research in the Journal of Dairy Science. What did she uncover as the number one mastitis control mechanism?
“Postmilking teat dipping is the single most effective practice in controlling mastitis,” she said.
Even though we learned what prevents mastitis back then, it remains a challenge on dairies. Ruegg said that 25 to 40 percent of cows develop a clinical case of mastitis each lactation, costing an average of $200 per cow.
Monitoring bulk tank somatic cell scores is one way to keep an eye on milk quality, but Ruegg stated, “Acceptable bulk tank somatic cell count does not always mean mastitis is controlled.” Instead, she explained that a drop in bulk tank somatic cell count could be the result of improved milking protocols or aggressive culling of chronic mastitis cows.
Likewise, “High milk quality is more than bulk tank somatic cell count,” said Ruegg. She pointed to prevention of mastitis, justifiable antibiotic use, and socially acceptable animal care as other indicators of milk quality on dairy farms now. Even though what we learned decades ago still holds true, we are far from solving the mastitis problem on today’s dairies.