Recipes - Dairy Farms
Across different regions we often see farmers and Quality departments squeezed first during difficult times. This is the case in Australia where droughts have strained the dairy industry. Especially now as the warmer weather starts to settle in and temperatures are already hitting high 30 Degrees Celsius before summer has even started. GP Systems our Australian and New Zealand partner since 2017 knows this challenge firsthand. Plants in small towns have been hit so heavily, that they are reexamining their development plans to accommodate to water shortages. Jared Bailey, General Manager for GP Systems shared that Australia the driest continent on earth, seems to be getting drier with some regions seeing the worst drought in over 120 years There are towns in northern Australia with water supply that is down to less than two weeks. The knock on effect of all this is a reduced reduction in milk supply and spiraling costs to the farmer for feed and water in the effected regions. This puts considerable strain on the farmers with some already losing there farm and others been forced into survival mode. In turn the impact here trickles down into the wider rural community.
While there are significant challenges facing the Australian and New Zealand dairy market, GP Systems has been able to achieve double digit increases in growth each year. What has led to this growth? One reason is the Chinese regulatory requirements. China imports powdered dairy products and holds Australian and New Zealand dairies to a higher standard. This requires extensive documentation and accurate data for microbiological analysis. Additionally, allergens are becoming a growing concern and requires aseptic sampling to ensure no cross contamination. GP Systems is working closely with its plants to understand their sampling needs and designing sampling plans that proactively monitor their process and protect their brand even during challenging times.
To learn more about the Australian and New Zealand dairy market check out the new GP Systems website.
Dairies are closing at a rate of eight to fourteen percent per year and have been for the last four years. In the media, a day does not go by where there isn’t a story about another dairy closing. Last month, an auction notice was posted for a five hundred cow dairy farm going under. With an average butterfat of 3.7 and somatic cell counts of 185,000, the reason for closure wasn’t due to the quality of the milk. These numbers are excellent and in a normal dairy market, this farm should have been able to easily sustain itself.
The question becomes: Even in this difficult market, why weren’t they able to sustain themselves?
There are always external reasons like divorce, death, or bad investments that can lead to the death of a farm. What if the problem was not the quality of the milk produced, but the sample taken from which the farm was paid?
I recently had an opportunity to speak with the owner of a 700-cow dairy who had lost his quality premium for the month of February. While reviewing the quality totals, I noticed six distinct spikes in his bacteria counts that were obviously outliers. These outliers were not consistent over a few days, were not associated with any farm related event, and his components remained consistent. The farmer is currently milking into a 6000 lbs. bulk tank and the sample is taken using traditional methods.
The traditional method of sampling, which has been in practice for over 100 years, has 17 points where human error can be introduced. Based on these human errors and through no fault of the farmer, this producer’s quality premium was lowered, and he lost $3,500 for that month. Further, this was the second time in the last year that this had happened. This is a substantial blow to a 700-cow dairy and to the morale of the farmer. On top of all the other stressors the farmer faces, an inaccurate sample should be the last thing he has to worry about, especially when there are alternative methods available to remove human error.
Everyone has experienced communication challenges from traveling, watching an international film or trying to talk with a young child. Very quickly you learn either to rely on facial expressions, pull out Google translate or maybe use a calculator. Building understanding, but more importantly, trust is no easy task.
Working in Malaysia for two years and not speaking any of the local languages or understanding the cultural elements at first, I had to learn how to build trust quickly. After I learned enough Malay, I scanned the environment to string similar conversations. Often, conversations led to food and family, especially in business situations.
Today, working between different regions and countries in highly regulated environments with varying priorities – language and technical understanding can be a greater challenge. It’s not just a matter of knowing the language but interpreting unspoken ques and regulatory requirements. Luckily, in the dairy industry, there are several benchmarks for microbiological standards that make language a little less challenging.
Data can cut through language barriers, as well as complicate communication if expectations are not met. Bad data can throw off a system that is based on trust and integrity. Accuracy becomes even more important as the dairy industry becomes more globally interconnected. Having accurate data can help understanding where we are at today and where we want to go without needing a lot of explanation.
Organic milk demand is gaining momentum. Images of cows basking in the sunshine, grazing on fresh grass in open pastures and being milked when they want it. This is what the movement wants to you feel when you are at your dairy case in the grocery store and reach for a gallon of organic and smile. This choice is healthier right?
Organic milk is from dairy cows that have not been treated with antibiotics.
As an industry, organic dairies make up less than 10% of all milk produced and overall sales have run roughly parallel to traditional milk sales, but they are slowly gaining ground. The idea behind milk that is free of chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides or artificial agents seems like a sound notion, but is somewhat misleading.
Consider bovine growth hormones (rBGH), which is still approved for use to escalate the growth of young heifers. These hormones do not have any natural receptors in the human body, so they are considered inactive with zero known effects on human physiology. There is a grass roots movement based on conflicting studies, that these hormones cause cancer in humans, because they increase blood levels of IGH-1, an insulin growth factor. Subsequent studies, however, have been unable to verify this link, so no clear scientific link can be established. The worst-case calculation determined that if an infant drank 1.5 liters of milk from a cow treated with rBGH, the amount absorbed would be far less than 1% of the infant’s daily production of IGF-1.
Regarding questions related to the effect of antibiotics on the quality of traditional milk, it is important to know the facts. Cows that are identified as needing antibiotics to control common infections such as mastitis infections are pulled from the herd on a traditional farm and not added back in until they test negative. After the treatment of antibiotics, the body metabolizes and cleans itself very quickly. Several factors can lengthen this like the age and weight of the cows, but overall, the antibiotics are entirely cleared within a couple of weeks. Only then are the cows put back into milk production. On organic dairies, the infected cows are completely removed from the herd if antibiotics are ever used.
Organic cows are mandated to graze for at least 30% of their lives on pastures that have been free of pesticides for at least three years.
Pesticides and fertilizers are generally broken down within six months, depending on environmental factors. This requirement is over-kill but is a guarantee that the consumer will not have to worry about chemical contamination. On traditional dairy farms the cows are moved to pasture when they are drying off for two months, if pasture is available.
Ultimately, whether the consumption of organic milk is a fad, or one based on science, it seems there are arguments for both sides. Purists would say that they enjoy knowing that there is no possibility of chemical contamination or increased risk of cancer. They may also like the idea that dairy cows get to walk around in a field for a significant portion of their lives. The average consumer would say that they have faith in the government regulations that protect them from any potential risks associated with traditional farming. An informed decision really comes down to personal preference.
Who knew so much came down to clean water for quality milk?
The Internet is riddled with tips and tricks to control mastitis and improve the quality of milk through feed rations, but what is generally overlooked is the essential need for clean, accessible water.
Experts focus on so many factors such as bedding, milking practices, proper sanitation of the milk lines, and the perfect nutritional balance, but the base of all milk is water. Each cow drinks 30-50 gallons of water per day, which accounts for 87% of the makeup of milk.
When thirsty, cows will drink whatever water is available to them. If the available water is contaminated with bacteria or the dissolved solids in the water are not evaluated, producers may be creating avoidable issues for themselves.
What can be done?
The first step for producers is to assess the quality of their herds’ drinking water. A complete analysis of chemicals and microbiologic contaminants is essential, as the cow’s tolerance and performance are directly linked. Water contaminated with heavy metals like Ferrous Iron (Fe) will cause scouring, loss of body weight, and lower milk production by decreasing the cow’s ability to digest nutrients from the feed. Bacterial contamination in the water will increase the chances of cows becoming infected with a mastitis infection, which will lead to increased costs for treatment and loss of production. Mastitis accounts for over $550 million in lost production each year, so using simple means of avoidance are wise overall investments.
The second step for producers is to create an environment that is easily accessible. For example, troughs need to be set outside the exit of the milking parlor so cows can drink after being milked. They just expelled up to 60 pounds of milk; no wonder the ladies are thirsty. Water troughs in the pens need to be placed at the ends of the bedding lines and every 100 feet, so a cow never needs to walk more than 50 feet to get water. The troughs need to be a minimum of three inches deep and should allow for at least 2.5 linear inches per cow. The troughs should be physically cleaned at a minimum of every other day to prevent organic build up and algae growth.
It is simple. Fresh, sanitary water is the backbone on which all other efforts for quality milk rest.
With clean accessible water, the nutritionist can create a feed ration and a program that will increase volume and components and decrease overall mastitis infections throughout a herd.
I opened the refrigerator and pulled the gallon of milk out eagerly anticipating the first sip of goodness. After breaking open the sealed cap of the new container, I watched the smooth flow of the brilliant white fluid fill my glass to the top. Lifting it to my lips, I swallowed a couple of large mouthfuls and immediately spit it out. I had expected to taste the rich and creamy flavor of whole milk, but instead, the inside of my mouth was coated with the taste of a farm.
I have been on thousands of farms, and inside each milk house of everyone I have visited has the distinct aroma of stagnant milk. This is a subset of bacteria called Psychrotrophic Spore-formers. These bacteria grow in temperatures between 0 to 7 degrees Celsius and is a factor of what cause milk to spoil in the refrigerator. Further, these bacteria are activated by pasteurization, which releases the spore inside the bacteria. Some species, like Bacillus, are even resistant to the pasteurization process.
Could this be avoided?
Yes. We could increase the temperature and shorten the time of the pasteurization process. In Europe, milk is pasteurized at 135 degrees Celsius for 2-5 seconds. This method not only kills the bacteria, but the spores as well. But this solution is not economically feasible in the United States as the entire dairy industry would need to change its process. Also, the very particular U.S. market would have to adapt to the change in taste that is associated with Ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) milk.
Increase sanitation standards and testing
The more economical option would be to increase sanitation standards and testing for this specific group of bacteria on the farm. Testing every tanker truck’s load of milk for Lab. Pasteurized counts (LPC), and Preliminary incubation (PI) and reducing the acceptable levels would also accomplish this goal. Understandably, this could increase the stress on an already burdened farmer, but this proactive measure would be an investment in the industry and have far-reaching effects.
Saddened by my findings, I knew what I needed to do. I poured the entire gallon of milk down the drain. What was even worse, is I knew this was not a unique case.
The sale of fluid milk is decreasing rapidly, compensation is at a 4-year low and farmers are struggling. The only way to stop the trend is to find ways to protect the product and brand. Increased testing for non-pathogenic bacteria which create customer dissatisfaction needs to become a major priority. If we work together, the dairy industry can re-establish itself as a premier product.
This summer has brought many personal and professional changes. Following a curiosity to develop the international arm of our business, I jumped all in, moved over the pond and opened new location in Stavanger, Norway. We have customers in over thirty countries, however, until now we have not dedicated training or support for our international partners.
Setting up in Norway has been an adjustment with many positive surprises. Simple ones from having a wide selection of brunost (dessert-like cheese made from whey) for breakfast, never-ending sunsets to running through security in five minutes to train our new Italian distributor. The best one yet is passing a dairy farm every morning, who can’t love that?
While there are many great transitions, it can’t go without saying that there are challenges. Communication at times has been slow opening a new office in the summer. July is a typical month-long holiday for Northern Europe and leading into August when the rest of Europe slows down. However, it has opened more time to set up calls with our other regional partners.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be in the middle of success stories from different countries with plants and farms solving sampling challenges. My focus in the upcoming months is to highlight those stories and improve food safety or payment integrity for farmers. Reach out if you have any questions or just have an equal fascination about sampling and the impact it can have for dairy.
Any given company can head to the Internet and read a plethora of articles about how to create a food quality culture. The Food Safety Moderation Act (FSMA) has laid the groundwork in sterile detail about what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires from a fundamental standpoint. Tier one quality systems like Safe Quality Food (SQF) provide an organization a checklist of tasks which, if followed, will protect the company and consumers from physical adulteration and defend production procedures or processes. Validation and verification track and trace activities create a log, which in the event of an outbreak can be traced back to a specific action. But the question remains. What elements create a true quality culture?
Dairy farms and beverage companies understand that the number one contributor to production issues is the humans doing the tasks. A task can be an impersonal checked box on a clipboard, but a practical understanding of what the work represents is the key to changing a culture. Employees who have a list of tasks are prone to have an increased tendency to error, but when tasks are coupled with a genuine belief in the safety and the protection of consumers, the employees become advocates. In a short time, employee advocates become empowered front-line defenders of the company and public.
Investing in the development of the newly minted employee advocates is the road to excellence for a food producer or manufacturer. Farm and food processing employees see disconnects that may be oblivious to upper management. They are the eyes and ears of the production process on a granular level and have insights that may save the company from a recall in the future. A task driven employee will take a sample from silo via an un-sanitized petcock. An empowered employee advocate will recommend installing an aseptic access point to avoid possibly contaminating the product.
When you empower and train your staff to make quality-related decisions based on macro-level thinking and understanding, you can genuinely say that you have a quality culture where everyone wins.
Farmers dedicate significant time to keeping cows dry, udders healthy, and teats clean. On the surface, pre and post dips are mechanisms to remove bacteria and organic contaminants before the milking cluster is applied. A properly executed pre and post-dip will help protect the cow from a mastitis infection from bacteria like S. aureus. When proper technique is consistent for every cow that enters the parlor, the overall herd somatic cell counts will go down, and the farm’s milk quality will go up. Proper hygiene is more than just a task in the parlor – proper milking procedures could save lives.
What is not fully understood is that while S. aureus has a detrimental effect on the health of cows and productivity, the presence of another bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes, can lead to deadly consequences. Listeria is naturally occurring on farms. In fact, dairy farms act as reservoirs for Listeria. It is frequently found in bulk tank milk samples and the feces of clinically healthy cows.
Listeria monocytogenes is a Gram-positive non-spore-forming bacterium which has an amazing ability to survive in harsh environments. Listeria can grow in temperature ranges of 1-45O Celsius, pH of 4.5-9.6, 25.5% salt concentration, with or without available oxygen. To make matters worse, it is the causal agent of Listeriosis which has a 20-30% mortality rate if consumed by humans. The mortality rate can reach as high as 70% of it goes untreated and infiltrates the nervous system.
Given the real possibility of health complications and even death from consumption of Listeria, the importance of mitigation through proper teat hygiene cannot be overstated. The proper technique for a pre and post-dip is as follows:
1: With a single use towel, wipe away all visual organic matter from the teat.
2. Teats must be entirely submerged in solution or covered with sanitizing foam.
3. Teats must remain in contact with the solution for at least 30 seconds or as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
4. Teats must be thoroughly wiped to remove the solution. For best cleaning action, teats should be wiped in a circular motion with attention paid to teat ends. Wiping stimulates milk let-down and reduces the risk of contamination up, into the teat end.
Proper Post Dip:
1. Disinfectant must be applied as soon as possible after removing the milking cluster.
2. Disinfectant must coat the entire surface that was covered by the teat liner.
3. Do not wipe disinfectant. In frigid weather, remove the excess sanitizer from the end of the teat to prevent freezing.
4. Products should be antimicrobial to eliminate bacteria with a skin conditioner since sores can lead to infection.
To verify teat sanitation and overall milking procedure hygiene, aseptically pen/string sample every group into a sterile collection unit and send the samples to a verified lab. Request species-specific results for staph, strep, coliforms, and pathogens like Listeria. A structured sampling program is the key to verifying on-farm milking procedures are being performed correctly and will identify possible issues before the herd is contaminated. When used as part of a Mastitis Control Plan, farmers can also proactively impact their quality premium and ensure they get paid top dollar for the milk they produce.
Proper hygiene is more than just a task in the parlor. It can literally save lives. Train your staff with the knowledge they need to mitigate this possibility.
According to the USDA mastitis accounts for $400-$500 million, or $23 per cow, in lost production and revenue for dairy farmers nationwide. Further, mastitis can shorten the life expectancy of the cow and has negative effects on milk production after the cow goes through treatment. There is also evidence of a link between mastitis and biofilm formation on the surfaces of milking and processing systems. These biofilms can lead to further losses in quality premiums. This loss of revenue prevents the dairy farmer from putting capital back into operations.
One proven solution to reduce mastitis.
Implementation of a Mastitis Control Plan with special emphasis on mastitis treatment and routine pen/string sampling. Through general management and organization of the on-farm duties like bedding management and milking parlor procedures, a farm can make significant strides in controlling the spread of mastitis-causing bacteria like S. aureus and S. uberis. Animal management duties that emphasize an effective pre and post-dip process will also add value by stopping the spread of bacteria. How does the herd manager detect mastitis in the sub-clinical phase?
When the infected quarter is red, inflamed, and painful to the touch the mastitis is already in a clinical phase. This means immediate quarantine from the herd and a course of antibiotics. One approach to detecting mastitis before it reaches the clinical phase is weekly to bi-weekly pen/string sampling.
By finding mastitis when it is at sub-clinical levels, the production losses and cost of medications are lower. This translates to the cow being in the hospital group for a shorter duration, and back in the parlor creating revenue sooner. A routine pen sampling schedule reduces the operating costs of testing every cow when somatic cell counts in the bulk tank begin to rise. Early identification and management will lead to overall higher revenue and profits which dairy farmers desperately need in today’s market.