Cluster flush boosts dairy profits

A dairy farmer has increased his monthly milk income by about £3000 after installing an automated cluster disinfection system to tackle sub-clinical mastitis.

At its worst, the cell count reading in Robert Davies’ herd rocketed to 500,000cells/100ml and was costing him 2.5p a litre in lost income.

Mr Davies, who farms in partnership with his wife, Frances, in Cerredigion, had almost given up hope of beating the problem. His farm, Pantmoch, sits in a wooded valley at Llandysul, and sub-clinical mastitis has been a consistent problem.

“The fields at the bottom of the valley are quite wet and seem to attract a lot of insects. The cows gather under the trees and create muddy areas and this makes the problem worse,” says Mr Davies.

He runs a herd of 210 Holstein Friesians which calve all the year round and yield 7500 litres at 4.1% butterfat and 3.4% protein.

The fresh calvers are housed until they get back in calf and it was the cows at pasture that were most badly affected by mastitis. “We could manage the problem better inside because we could spray the cubicles,” says Mr Davies.

His father, John, until recently an active partner in the business, had even given up milk production in the 1970s because of mastitis issues in the herd.

Before installing a backflush system, Mr Davies had implemented several measures in an attempt to bring the cell count reading down. “The situation was out of control. We were pre-dipping the teats, dipping the clusters, spraying the cubicles and separating the high cell count cows to be milked last, but absolutely nothing made a difference,” he says.

“We were also testing cows once a month and culling accordingly, but there was no logical pattern. When we tested it was very often not the same cows that were affected. We used tubes and jabs, but it just kept recurring.”

Mr Davies, whose farm is a Dairy Development Centre demonstration farm, spoke to farmers who had experienced similar problems and had installed intermediate cluster disinfection systems in their milking parlours with great success. Although it meant an investment of £11,500, Mr Davies decided it could be the solution he was looking for. He also changed the clusters in his 20/20 direct line parlour for lighter models.

Six months after it was installed, he says the system has paid for itself. His cell count readings have dropped to 250,000 cells/100ml and continue to fall. “Our cell count penalty is now down to 0.3p a litre and we are making big savings on tubes. We had been using up to 50 a month, but are now down to about 10,” says Mr Davies.

Backflush prevents mastitis spreading from udder to udder by flushing the clusters and milk tubes with air after each individual milking, followed by water and then a flush of chemical solution. Finally air is blown through the system.

Not only are the Davies’ earning more money from their milk since the lowered herd’s cell counts, but they have cut two hours from their working day. “We were spending an hour at every milking dipping and spraying. As much as the financial loss it was the physical challenge of it all and the stress it created,” says Mr Davies.

But now, with his milk quality at its highest, he feels he is on top of the problem. “The relief is enormous. We can now concentrate on farming instead of fighting a problem,” he adds.