Saturday, December 2, 2023

Making small but critical animal welfare changes on farm

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Central Otago dairy farmer focuses on “prevention is the best cure” when it comes to animal welfare and looking at the long-term gains.
Central Otago dairy farmer Tim Rivers is a former sheep and beef farmer and converted his farm to dairy in 2017. Four years later he found himself dealing with a high number of mastitis cows.
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This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

Clinical mastitis cases and somatic cell count levels have dropped significantly since Central Otago dairy farmer Tim Rivers made small but critical animal health improvements with the help of FIL. This has led to a significant reduction in the use of drugs in the 1200-cow herd.

It was a case of “prevention is the best cure” and looking at the long-term gains for Rivers, who implemented a variety of changes in the dairy shed and upskilled his staff to tackle the mastitis problem he had been dealing with for years.

This year is the fifth season on Goldenburn Farm for the former sheep and beef farmer. He purchased the 350ha Alexandra land in 2013 and converted it to dairy in 2017. Going into the 2021-2022 season, he made a call to make some changes.

Mastitis numbers were high, affecting 30% of the herd (380 cows) and somatic cell count (SCC) elevated, sitting at 223,000. 

The situation took its toll on the team of five and he had also been implementing antibiotic susceptibility testing, which was adding cost and complexity without any results.

“My team were getting frustrated. And we were seeing no improvements,” Rivers says. 

To tackle the issues, Rivers decided to reach out to FIL in June of 2021. FIL South Island manager Mike Robinson picked up the call and headed out to Goldenburn to assess the team’s milking techniques and standard operating procedures. 

Leading into spring calving, Robinson returned and looked at making small but critical changes, keeping the long-term goals front of mind. 

“FIL had a good look at our plant and saw how everything was running. Cup alignment needed improvement, so we rectified the issues there and started training the team,” Rivers says. 

A large component of the training was around how to handle freshly calved cows and minimising mastitis in early lactation, recommending the following simple changes:

• Clean gloves for every milking: Maintain high hygiene standards during milking. This includes wearing clean gloves and washing hands between cows with a bucket of hot water mixed with Antigerm disinfectant.

• Pre-spray with an iodine-based teat spray: Iodine-based teat spray is preferred because of its broad spectrum and faster action. This also starts softening any dirt from the teat. 

• Trim tails: Trimmed tails reduce the transfer of environmental pathogens onto the udder.

• Alcohol wipes: Clean each quarter with an individual alcohol wipe, paying particular attention to the teat barrel and teat end. This critical step is often missed.

• Cup alignment: Make sure cups are hanging squarely under the udder to promote an even milk out.

• Post spray: After milking, post spray with an iodine-based teat spray with emollient levels between 12% and 15% and iodine at a minimum of 3450 ppm of ready-to-use solution. Apply Active Teat Cream to any damaged or cracked teats. 

Staph aureus was also present in this herd, so the iodine levels were adjusted to 3450 ppm for most of the season to have more effect on the pathogen. 

Robinson says when they started working with Rivers and his team, they had a very clear goal in mind to reduce mastitis by 50%.

“I knew if they stuck to the calving milking procedures and were patient enough, their mastitis rate would reduce,” Robinson says. 

In Rivers’ case, his patience has paid off. 

“The calving milking plan is gold. Having the FIL team help identify problems and help train and fine-tune our team’s skills, as well as mentor them around best practice, really got them up to speed and up to the FIL standard,” Rivers says. 

He says that rather than his staff constantly treating cows, they now have more time to perform other tasks on farm in the spring when they are usually time-poor. 

“Our initial reason for working with FIL was actually reliability of products,” he says. 

The FIL team introduced Iodoshield Active and Active Teat Conditioner early in the process when Robinson came on board to help combat the staph aureus within the herd. An older automated teat spray mixer was also upgraded.

“Now you just know the teat spraying is getting done right every day.” 

He attributes significant improvements in his herd’s health to the specific training, making small changes and the use of FIL products, adding that what the team was learning has helping them gain a broader understanding of mastitis management. 

In November, the SCC dropped to 95,000. More significant improvements in animal health, financial gains and time savings came gradually. 

Mastitis cases dropped significantly from treating 380 cows down to 135 cows the following season. That’s a cost saving of around $49,000. 

“I had to look long term if we were to really turn things around,” Rivers says. 

“Things didn’t happen overnight, but the changes paid off. Having someone like Mike, with his expertise and knowledge was so valuable.”  

Robinson is beyond thrilled to see the results on Rivers’ farm, saying he knew there would be an impact after the first season but would take two to three seasons to achieve greater results. 

“Since Tim and his team have been working with FIL, they have had a cost reduction of 71% in treatments and milk loss,” he says.

“Good things take time and luckily Tim has a great team on board who implemented changes well. 

“Some problems can take longer to resolve so correct milking procedures and having farm staff trained well is vital.” 

Best of all, Rivers is happy with where his farm is today, as are his team. Going forward, he’s looking at this season with both relief and optimism. 

As of February 2023, the herd’s average SCC is sitting at 141,000. 

“We are really happy with the results, but there is more work to be done,” Robinson says, adding that they’d like to see treatments drop to 5% of the herd eventually.

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