Quality starts with the cow
As consolidation leads to fewer but larger dairy farms, new analysis technology is helping both farmers and cattle to maintain a good flow of quality milk.
The support is coming through increasingly sophisticated testing services provided by milk testing laboratories or, in some cases, through analysis technology installed on the farm. Net profit improvement for farmers using the on-farm systems can be €250 to 350 per cow per year.
Fewer but larger herds
Dairy herds in some parts of the world number up to 5 – 10,000 cows and the trend is inevitable and global. But large scale farming does not have to be bad for the cows. And neither does it need to be a headache for the farmer who has to keep an eye on them all.
FOSS analytical instruments are widely used by central milk testing laboratories to test milk for signs of conditions such as mastitis – a disease of the udder that is uncomfortable for the cow and detrimental to milk yield. The mastitis test and many others are performed under dairy herd improvement schemes run by the milk testing laboratories. These give dairy farmers vital analysis information to help with feeding strategies, animal husbandry and health of individual cows.
Based on the principle that a happy and healthy cow gives more milk, the herd improvement schemes have been proven to increase yield. Now new developments in analytical technology are providing even more options for farmers to improve the quality of their raw milk deliveries, no matter how large their herds become.
New testing opportunities
A recent development pioneered by FOSS, is a new milk screening system that can help milk testing centres to give dairy farmers an early warning of ketosis – a condition brought on by fatigue in cows after calving. It can reduce yield by over 500 kilos of milk per cow per year while adversely affecting reproduction and animal welfare. The early warning allows feeding to be adjusted before the condition sets in.
Another recent development is the ability to monitor saturated fat content in milk to improve the quality of raw milk entering the supply chain. Analysis instruments can reveal the main groups of fatty acids in a milk sample. Dairy farmers whose milk does not match the ideal profile of fats can be alerted so that they can take action by adjusting the feed for their cows, for example, feeding based on more traditional grass grazing and less corn has been found to reduce levels of saturated fats.
In the Netherlands, around 400 farmers have been involved in a scheme to provide milk with a specific fatty acid profile for several years. The milk is subsequently used in a special range of products which the manufacturer can then promote as containing higher levels of healthier fatty acids.
On farm testing
A system for testing milk directly on the farm called Herd Navigator automatically takes, analyses and reports on milk samples. It then alerts the dairy farmer to the condition and health of each individual cow.
Herd Navigator automatically detects diseases, reproductive status and feeding conditions long before they would be noticeable to the human eye. Users in Denmark have found an major improvement in detecting cows in heat. Before Herd Navigator about 40% or 50% of cows in heat were detected. Now it is 95%. It used to take us at least 45 minutes twice a day to check the cows and this now takes five minutes to check on the computer screen. The system tells which cows to focus on and gives the farmer time to call the inseminator.
For a herd of 150 cows, Herd Navigator can bring a net profit improvement for farmers of 250 to €350 per cow per year.