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 winner in Dairy Australia’s 2019 Milk Quality Awards.
Despite facing challenging seasonal conditions, Mr Hibberson 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 herd health and his bottom line.
Mr Hibberson and his wife Nicole bought their 90ha flood-irrigated dairy farm at Yarroweyah after previously sharefarming 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 Mr Hibberson, producing high-quality milk comes down to three factors — maintaining excellent teat condition, early detection and treatment of mastitis, and herd testing.
‘‘I’m finding really good teat condition is the best way to control mastitis,’’ he said.
Mr Hibberson 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.
Mr Hibberson said he had seen improvements in his bulk milk cell count (BMCC) of 20000 to 30000 cells/ml after changing his rubberwear from round to triangular liners.
He 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.’’
When a case of mastitis is identified, Mr Hibberson uses an intramuscular antibiotic to treat all four quarters, rather than treating quarters individually.
A major challenge 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.
Dairy Australia’s Countdown program considers a BMCC below 150000 cells/ml to be excellent.
Most processors will pay a premium for a cell count below 200000, but Mr Hibberson aims for a yearly average around 60000 cells/ml.
This number spikes after calving, but he believes that addressing any issues early puts his cows in a better position for the remainder of the lactation.
Herd testing is done once a month to allow the Hibbersons to make informed decisions about their herd during a tight season.
Mr Hibberson does not believe there is any special secret to maintaining milk quality, but instead believes in making incremental gains across the business.
■Dairy farmers can access a range of resources to improve milk quality and prevent mastitis from Dairy Australia at: dairyaustralia.com.au/mastitis