THE Australian Milk Quality Awards recognize the best 5% of dairy farms across Australia, based on annual average bulk milk cell count (BMCC).
And there is a liberal sprinkling of well-known South Gippsland milk producers among them this year.
A higher milk cell count generally occurs when mastitis is present in a dairy herd.
The popular annual awards are based on BMCC data supplied to the Australian Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme by dairy companies across the country and to be eligible, dairy farms must have data for a minimum of nine months in 2014.
The dairy companies collect the figures because they require a minimum cell count in order to pay their premium milk price, so there’s plenty of motivation to keep levels low.
Monthly averages are then used to calculate the annual average BMCC for each farm and the winners are the top 5% of farms with the lowest BMCC.
The best local performers were Ashley and Deidre Zuidema of Yanakie who received a gold award this year from Dairy Australia after figuring in the lowest 100 dairy farms in Australia for cell count.
Their secrets to success are simple:
“It’s not any one thing really and I don’t think we’re especially fanatical about it. You’re supposed to stay under a 250,000 cell count to get the premium milk payment and we’re never anywhere near that.
“We’ve been as low as 32,000 this year and we’re often around the 40,000 mark daily when they pick up the milk but you only need one cow with mastitis to push you up about 100,000. With two cows you could go over and that affects your milk check so we try to stay as low as we can just in case.
“I’m really the only person who milks the cows, so I’m aware of their condition and take action straight away.
“We use antibiotics and teat seal when we dry them off and we spray them before and after milking for the first two months of milking.”
Antiseptic spray continues on from there through the season.
“And I always wear gloves in the shed,” said Ashley.
It’s a theme we saw repeated in another winning shed last week, at Ian Salmon’s at Leongatha South where gloves are always used.
“I thought I was a bit of a pussy initially for wearing gloves for milking but I’m convinced it makes a big difference. You’re not spreading bacteria from one cow to the next and you’re not getting it in the cracks and cuts in your hands,” said Ashley.
“We treat the cows as soon as there’s any sign of mastitis and I do herd testing each month so we take any action needed then as well.”
The location at Yanakie, where mud is rarely a problem, is also a help in keeping infection at bay, but right now, the Zuidemas would like to see some rain.
“It’s OK at the moment but we’ve missed a lot of the rain that’s circled around the hills. There’s a few farms around here buying in water.”
Ashley went back on to the farm after a career in the bank in 1982 and for 21 years, he’s worked the property with his wife Deidre, now with three children attending South Gippsland Secondary College and Foster Primary School.
They milk 160 cows on 180 acres, plus a 100 acre run-off block or about a cow to the acre, when you take out the native bush block that’s part of the farm.
The cows are milked in a 22 swing-over dairy where features include automatic cup removers.
The Zuidemas also raise some heifers for the export market.
According to Dairy Australia, “mastitis control stories are about solving or avoiding problems” and their awards celebrate success for more than 250 Australia dairy farmers while acknowledging a great collaboration between all the dairy companies and Dairy Australia’s Countdown 2020 project.
In 2014, a gold plaque award was introduced, replacing the certificates previously given out to farmers in the top 100. The gold plaque celebrates a significant achievement in delivering milk quality through the year.
Other South Gippslands among those in the top 5 per cent in the nation are Matt Loader and Megan Kirk of Krowera, Jacquie and Stuart Tracy of Waratah, the Newcomes and Hookers from Fish Creek, Ian Salmon at Leongatha South and the Caldermeade Pastoral Company at Lang Lang to name a few of them.