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Hear from the Murray region's Chris Hibberson about his focus on milk quality

Rather listen than read? Hear from Chris on Dairy Australia's podcast - Episode 8

After years on the cusp of the dairy industry’s top prize for milk quality, Northern Victorian dairy farmer Chris Hibberson has been announced as a 2019 winner of Dairy Australia’s Milk Quality Awards.

Despite facing challenging seasonal conditions, Chris has entered the top 100 producers for milk quality nationwide by maintaining his focus on mastitis management and milk quality, resulting in better outcomes for his heard health and his bottom line.

Chris and his wife Nicole purchased their 224-acre flood irrigated dairy farm at Yarroweyah after previously share farming on the property.

A 50:50 split calving pattern is used for their 220-cow mixed herd.

The feedbase is made up of lucerne and grazed pasture, as well as some hay, which is fed out in rings on a temporary feed pad established in a sacrifice paddock to get through the dry season.

For Chris, producing high quality milk comes down to three factors – maintaining excellent teat condition, early detection and treatment of mastitis, and herd testing.

 

Excellent teat condition

“I’m finding really good teat condition is the best way to control mastitis,” Chris said.

Chris is often in the dairy and keeps a close eye on the herd and milkers.

Keeping the cows calm is important, as calm cows kick the cups off less often, have better milk let-down and move through the dairy more easily.

Machinery and rubberwear is also serviced regularly to harvest milk efficiently and maintain healthy teats.

Chris says he has seen improvements in his Bulk Milk Cell Count (BMCC) of 20,000-30,000 cells/mL in changing his rubberwear from round to triangular liners.

Teat condition is not just managed in the dairy – Chris is a firm believer in providing enough shade to cows in the hotter months to reduce the risk of health problems including mastitis, especially for his autumn calvers.

When cows experience heat stress in late pregnancy, it suppresses their immune system for several weeks, leading to a higher risk of mastitis.

 

Early detection and treatment of mastitis

Chris routinely uses a chlorhexidine teat spray in the dairy. Teats are kept clean and inspected for any abnormalities at every milking.

“Identifying and treating cows when they first come in is one of my secrets to keeping a low cell count throughout the whole year,” Chris said.

When a case of mastitis is identified, Chris uses an intermuscular antibiotic to treat all four quarters, rather than treating quarters individually.

Cows are clearly marked after treatment for ongoing monitoring and management.

A major challenge for the business is addressing spikes in cell counts immediately after calving.

As a preventative measure, all cows receive dry cow treatment, which treats existing infections that were not cured during lactation and reduces the number of new infections during the dry period.

For one to two months following calving, all cows are stripped weekly, and more often if heifers are prone to mastitis.

Not only does this help to detect clinicals, it also helps to accustom cows to the milking process and provides an effective signal for milk let-down.

In early lactation, Chris checks to see that all cows have been milked out properly.

Dairy Australia’s Countdown program considers a Bulk Milk Cell Count (BMCC) below 150,000 cells/mL to be excellent. Most processors will pay a premium for a cell count below 200,000, but Chris aims for a yearly average around 60,000 cells/mL.

This number spikes after calving, but Chris believes that addressing any issues early puts his cows in a better position for the remainder of the lactation.

“I may treat more when they first calve, but I see the benefits later on,” Chris said.

“From around three months, the cell count drops right back, even as low as 40,000 (cells/mL), and I have very few mastitis issues, so it saves on the vet bills.”

 

Herd testing

Herd testing is conducted once a month on the Hibberson farm to allow Chris and Nicole to make informed decisions about their herd during a tight season.

Herd testing assists them to see which cows are more prone to mastitis and how they respond to treatments.

Chris does not believe there is any special secret to maintaining milk quality, but instead believes in making incremental gains across the business.

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