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Rising cell counts were causing issues for Harry and son Sam on their Gerangamete farm for several years.
Every time tankers collect milk from the dairy, it’s checked for the concentration of somatic cells, which shows the number of white blood cells. Known in the industry as bulk milk cell count (BMCC), an ideal cell count is less than 250,000 cells/ml – with a high cell count indicating a bacterial infection in the udder, also known as mastitis.
A high cell count is a constant concern for dairy farmers wanting to optimise returns. Dairy processors typically pay a premium for low cell count milk to meet the quality standards their customers expect.
Harry's herd’s cell count would hover around the 250,000-mark, ballooning toward 350,000-400,000 by the end of the season, so he reached out to various sources to lower his herd’s cell count, including Fonterra’s Farm Source team.
Brendan Hyland, Fonterra’s Farm Source Milk Quality Specialist for Western Victoria, said the team sat down with Harry and Sam in 2018 to create a five-year plan on how to get their herd’s cell count under 150,000.
“One thing we noticed was the way that cups were being removed, which was contributing to cross-contamination across the herd, so Harry introduced better teat spray application and improved milking techniques.
“Harry’s farm doesn’t lend itself to being able to milk or run two herds, so we worked with him to introduce a second – or spare – cluster system.
“This is designed to separate the cows with mastitis to keep their milk separate from that being picked up for processing, while also working to reduce the level of mastitis in the affected herd,” said Brendan.
As a result of Harry’s hard work to implement the fixes and ongoing herd management, he saw improvements much faster than expected.
“With 12 months, the cell count dropped from 350,000-400,000 to under 150,000, leading to the first of three consecutive annual milk quality awards from Fonterra – and a higher price for his milk,” said Brendan.
But he didn’t stop there. By 2020, Harry got the cell count average down to 60,000 across a herd of 340 cows. This dramatic improvement resulted in Harry being recognised by Dairy Australia with a coveted Gold Diamond Award, an achievement bestowed on only 100 farmers each season for recording the lowest average cell count.
Harry said that the hard work has paid off.
“Three years ago when we started to really focus on getting the issue under control, it seemed liked a long road ahead.
“You think it’s going to be a struggle, but it wasn’t that bad in the long run. It’s all about getting on top of it and then staying on top.
“I don’t think we lead the field or anything – we just made the changes, worked hard on it and when we started to see the results, it pushed us to keep improving.
“We’ve improved our bottom line financially and improved the health of our herd – it’s a win-win,” said Harry.