Milk quality awards take pride of place

By Rick Bayne

Zoe Vogels likes nothing more than seeing dairy farms displaying their milk quality awards.

To this dairy vet, the Dairy Australia Milk Quality diamonds and local factory milk quality awards are an indicator that the farm and its cows are doing well.

“I was on a farm last week and up on their dairy door were all their milk quality awards from both their factory and from Dairy Australia,” Dr Vogels said.

“It’s good to see farmers’ hard work being acknowledged.”

Dr Vogels doesn’t have to look far to find milk quality awards — her husband Andrew and his brother Jamie Vogels run Scotts Creek Dairies, which now boasts three of its own.

The brothers have farmed the land in south-west Victoria all their lives, following in the footsteps of their father John who worked as a dairy farmer before moving into local and state politics.

Their milk quality run started in 2015 with a silver diamond for being in the top five per cent of bulk milk cell counts (BMCC) nationally and progressed in the past two years to gold diamonds for being in the top 100 farms.

The move to the top started about five years ago with significant changes in the drying-off routine and the introduction of Teatseal.

“Our cell count had gone higher and higher over the years and it was right on the edge of premium level,” Dr Vogels said.

“We found out what bacteria were causing the mastitis, and analysed when clinical cases were occurring; there was a high rate of environmental mastitis at calving time.

“The recommendation was to use a teat sealant in addition to dry cow antibiotic at drying-off. The next year we halved our cell count and the following years we’ve kept on going down.”

Teatseal application made a significant difference for mastitis at calving time.

“We also changed our whole drying-off routine,” Dr Vogels said.

“Industry best practice techniques were introduced, with more people in the dairy during the process so that hygiene at infusion was guaranteed. You could say it was a more careful job and that has been part of the difference.”

Next year they found the number of clinical mastitis cases at calving went down in the cows but they remained high in heifers so Teatseal prior to calving was introduced to them as well, with the help of the Vet Group’s tipping crush.

Changing the drying-off practices made the difference; since then Scotts Creek Dairies has maintained the practices and seen continual improvement.

The annual BMCC had peaked at 300 000 and dropped to about 150 000 the following year. More recently the annual average has been around 70 000. Today it’s averaging around 90 000.

“It has been lower but with the current wet conditions it’s to be expected. We haven’ been out of premium since we started all this,” Dr Vogels said.

While the changes came from necessity to avoid penalties associated with falling out of the premium milk bracket with their milk factory, Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, the new methods have had lasting positive impacts.

“It’s not just about penalties; if you have less mastitis in your herd your cows make more milk. It’s also not just the money; there’s the frustration of mastitis,” Dr Vogels said.

“If you could pay $50 to stop a case of mastitis would you do it? It’s hard to put a price on your mental health. Overall, less mastitis means better quality milk and happier farmers.”

The farm covers 566 ha and milks between 600 and 650 cows depending on the season. The cows are mixed breeds: Friesians, Swedish Reds and British Friesians. The farm has a good replacement rate of about 30 per cent, rearing about 220 heifers each year and culling empty cows and those with other issues. They calve May, June, July and again in September.

The farm relies on rye-grass pastures, home-grown hay and silage and feed pellets in the dairy. Overall production is about 7000 litres per cow with a 4.2 per cent butterfat and 3.4 per cent protein average.

The Vogels family is pleased with how the changes have gone.

“Even before the silver diamonds we were making the top 20 in the factory rankings; when we made the top 20 for the first time it was a bit of a thrill,” Dr Vogels said.

“To get a silver diamond was pretty cool; to get the gold was even better.”

The Vogel family's Holstein herd.