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March 31, 2003

Purdue Extension experts tell how to 'milk' the most from inputs

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Milk prices might be low, but extra income and money-saving options are available at almost every dairy farm, say two Purdue University Extension experts.

"Extra income is available from the very same milk already produced by making sure that milk quality premiums are captured," said Simon Kenyon, an Extension veterinarian. Milk quality premiums of greater than $1 per hundredweight are available in Indiana.

Mike Schutz, an Extension dairy specialist, said there are management options that can reduce costs and improve productivity. "There are many opportunities around the farm to implement ideas that cost little but can improve profitability," he said.

Both Kenyon and Schutz have put pen to paper to highlight some of their suggestions. The publications, "Improve Profitability by Improving Management: Capture Milk Quality Premiums" and "Profitable Considerations for Dairy Farms.

In addition to the profit tips the Purdue Extension dairy team developed there are several other publications available at the Web site that are designed to assist struggling dairy farmers. Schutz said the site has information that should be helpful to every producer.

"There are a number of dairy management practices that producers can implement," he said. "For example, most measures that reduce somatic cell scores pay for themselves by reducing mastitis, improving milk quality premiums and improving milk yield later in lactation."

Somatic cells are white blood cells that enter the milk as result of a mastitis infection. Higher somatic cell counts reduce cheese yield, affect cheese curd firmness, increase fat and casein loss in whey, and compromise dairy product taste and feel. Higher counts decrease shelf life and contribute to an overall lack of freshness.

Kenyon said good parlor management improves milk quality and combats somatic cell counts.

"Bulk tank somatic cell counts below 300,000 per milliliter of milk can be routinely achieved with almost any herd, and many herds maintain counts of 150,000 or less month in and month out," he said. "Those are the farms where good parlor and management practices are stressed."

Kenyon suggests farms follow standard milking procedures because consistent attention to those procedures is key to producing premium quality milk.

"The bottom line is to milk clean, dry teats," he said. "To do that you need good conditions in the free stall area. It's especially important to have dry, clean bedding. Get good milk letdown and don't overmilk. There should be a little bit of milk left in the udder after milking."

He also suggested putting the farm's milk quality team to work.

"Each farm's milk quality team already exists, even if isn't known by that name," he said. It includes the manager or owner, the milking staff and herdspeople, the farm veterinarian, the dairy field representative, and can include other people, such as Extension personnel, a milking equipment technician and the milk inspector.

One easy management practice to address is the amount of daylight to which cows are exposed. This technique is known as photoperiod manipulation. Schutz said milk yield increases when cows are exposed to bright light for 16 hours and darkness for eight hours per day.

Research also shows that milking recently fresh cows four times per day can increase yields over the traditional twice a day milking. Schutz said milking fresh cows four times per day for the first 30 days might produce the same increase in milk yield as milking them three times per day for the entire lactation. In addition, milking heifers starting three weeks before their expected due date may have benefits. Those heifers have less severe incidence of edema, produce more milk soon after calving and are less stressed at calving, he said.

Schutz also offered tips for producers dealing with low-quality forages.

"We're suggesting that farmers shop around. They should compare the cost of supplements from at least three feed suppliers, look into alternative feeds and find ways to decrease feed waste," he said.

The publication "Profitable Considerations for Dairy Farms" also covers controlled internal drug release devices (CIDRs) for heifers, contracting, fresh cow care and price risk management.

"While milk prices are low, it's very possible to survive the dairy crisis," Schutz said, "But producers will need to look carefully at every aspect of the dairy farm and look for things that can improve profitability and can be implemented at a reasonable cost."

Writer: Kay Hostetler, (765) 494-6682, kjh@purdue.edu

Sources: Simon Kenyon, (765) 494-0333, skenyon@purdue.edu

Mike Schutz, (765) 494-9478, mschutz@purdue.edu

Related Web sites:

Dairying in Difficult Times: http://www.ansc.purdue.edu/dairy/profit/

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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