Somatic Cell Count Success Three Years Running

Waikato sharemilkers Alex and Michelle Parrott have topped Open Country’s lowest somatic cell counts for three seasons running but they say the winning secret is their farm worker Bernie Marneth-Rust.

The Parrott’s have been sharemilking on a 92-hectare property at Kiwitahi, near Morrinsville, owned by their friends, Kelvin and Raewyn Park for the past eight years.

For the last three seasons they have had Open Country’s lowest somatic cell counts for the Waikato region, and while they do focus on dry cow treatments at the end of each season, Alex says Bernie has been a key player in their success.

The 21-year-old joined them three years ago, soon after finishing high school and with no real farming experience, but extremely eager to learn the ropes.

“Bernie works so hard. She’s diligent and has a real passion for working with animals. She has learnt extremely quickly, and the results we are getting on farm are a credit to her,” says Alex.

The Parrott’s herd of 270 mainly crossbred cows produce an average of 1108kg/MS per hectare. The herd, which is 100 percent DNA tested and has a breeding worth of 216 and PW of 263, is spring calving. By mid-season Alex milks the herd in the morning and Bernie the afternoon milking.

“Bernie is milking the herd half of the time so I know if she wasn’t doing such a great job our results wouldn’t be what they are,” says Alex.

Over the three seasons their average SSC count has been 39,000.

Since starting work with the Parrott’s, Bernie has completed her Primary Agriculture ITO training to level three and plans to continue studying.

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The job on the Parrott’s farm came along at an opportune time for Bernie.

“I was planning to go overseas to Europe on a trip to Scandinavia, Belarus and Poland but then Covid-19 hit, and I couldn’t go, and it set me on this new path,” says Bernie.

“Dairy farming was something I always wanted to do. My mum grew up on a farm and I always used to go to my grandparent’s farm in the school holidays. I had thought it was something I would do a bit later in life, but it all fell into place a bit earlier,” says Bernie.

When she started three seasons ago, she says she was, “pretty green” and she has had to learn a lot, including how to manage the herd to help prevent mastitis.


Animal Health

“I just love the cows. Their mannerisms and how they behave and they’re so hard working,” says Bernie.

She is fastidious in the shed, ensuring every cow is teat sprayed properly and not under or over milked.

“I like to keep things calm and quiet in the shed. That’s a natural approach for me and I think that is a big part of it too,” says Bernie.

Alex says while they do dry cow their herd they have a strong focus on animal health, ensuring their herd stays out of wet paddocks and their udders stay clean. They also carefully watch and manage their health in the shed.

“I don’t think there is any one thing really. It’s combination of everything you do to manage the herd,” says Alex.

MilkQualityAverageSomaticCellCount September2022

Mastitis is a Complex Problem

Open Country Dairy National Milk Quality Manager Peter Moore says mastitis is a complex problem involving multiple factors including the cow, the environment and the bacteria.

Managing cows’ udder health not only helps to reduce the incidence of mastitis, but it can also mean better milk production, he says.

While it can be challenging, doing the basics well like maintaining good teat skin condition is essential to reduce the chance of bacteria multiplying on the teats and entering the gland via the teat canal.

In the early part of the season cows are exposed to environmental bacteria.  This can be from muddy dirty races, feed pads and poor udder hygiene.  Bacteria enter the teat canal when it is open, around calving time and especially immediately before and after milking, he says.

Adopting good milking routines will also help reduce the mastitis risk from teat end damage caused by over-milking.

“It’s always a challenge but if farmers focus on doing the basics well, we can keep on top of SCC counts and if anyone is having trouble our Milk Supply Managers are always there to help.”

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Alex says that is an aspect they have enjoyed about being Open Country suppliers.

“The Milk Supply Managers are always available and it’s not often you’d get access to the company CEO but with Open Country we have that and it’s something we appreciate,” says Alex.

While he praises Bernie for helping to manage their SCC counts, he says Bernie has also been key in helping to maintain their in-calf rates which are now 80 percent within the first six weeks.

“Bernie is now picking the cows for AI which is impressive,” says Alex.

Their small herd is just over half-way through calving.

Bernie says it’s a busy time of year. She starts at 5am bringing the herd into the shed before going to check on the springers and tagging any new calves.

The new milkers are brought into the shed last, to milk colostrum, and then she either helps finish off the milking herd or goes to move the heifers.

“By the time we get through everything it’s lunchtime and then we get ready to do it all over again in the afternoon. It’s busy but I love it,” says Bernie.

Tips for Keeping Low Somatic Cell Counts

Udder health and milk quality are important to farm productivity and profitability. There’s a strong link between milking efficiency and preventing mastitis.

Things to do in the dairy

  • Focus on efficient milking routines. Increase paddock time for the cows and reduce the  mastitis risk by applying things like maximum milking times.
  • Ensure you have effective teat-spraying to kill bugs and keep teat skin smooth and  supple.
  • Clean dirty teats to make teat spraying more effective.

Things to do with the herd

  • Detect mastitis early by stripping the herd once a week in spring but think about how to do this efficiently.
  • Score teat skin and teat ends once a month.
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