As the 2017 national winners of DFMC’s milk quality award, Kaid and Joanne Hawken know a thing or two about how to produce quality milk.

Based on their 120-hectare farm in northern Victoria near Leitchville, the Hawkens run around 360 cows comprising about 50% Fresians and 50% cross-breds with Jersey, Brown Swiss and Aussie Red all in the mix.

The Hawken’s family were among the first settlers in the region and Kaid’s parents – Gary and Jenny – still work on the property. “Jo and I manage the dairy and we have three part-time milkers helping out,” said Kaid. “Mum does the office work and dad does all the irrigation and the pasture renewals.”

Kaid re-joined the dairy business after an apprenticeship as a boiler maker and a number of years on the family’s piggery. He quickly got into the swing of things and looked for ways to improve the business.

About six years ago, after meeting with his local vet to discuss mastitis and the herd’s health, Kaid made two key changes to how he managed his cows: he introduced teat seals, and he delayed cup placement on the cows entering the dairy. Both measures aimed to improve teat hygiene and address mastitis.

Drying off process

“We take a great deal of time drying off cows,” said Kaid. “Firstly, we slow down milk production for four to five days, then the next day we pull out a small number of cows, around 15 to 30 to dry, so we don’t get sick of doing it and do a poor job.

“The next step is cleaning the teats thoroughly with wipes, then applying antibiotics, wiping the teats again, then applying the teat sealer. This plugs the teat canal up for the dry period preventing bugs getting in and setting them up for the next lactation.

“When they come back in after they calve, they come in and they’re ready to go. It made a big, big difference.”

While there is a cost associated with applying the teat seal Kaid suggests that he makes his money back ten-fold by avoiding the costs of mastitis, which are around $250 a cow covering treatment and the cost of lost production.

Reducing cell counts

The second practice Kaid implemented was to delay when he puts the cups on the cows. Previously the cups were put on the cows immediately after they entered the dairy.

“We now put the cups on after they’ve moved around five or six spaces in the rotary dairy to give the cows more time to let their milk down,” said Kaid.

“This cut down the number of sores the cows were getting at the end of their teats by a lot, which in turn cut down the mastitis cases and the cell count went down after that too.

“It took three months to get a result but within six months we had a great result.

“Before I was seeing two to three cases a week of mastitis then, once I implemented these changes, it started coming down until I was getting just one case a fortnight and it got better and better after that.”

Kaid now targets a somatic cell count (SCC) of between 50,000 and 60,000 cells/ml – a good indicator his mastitis is well under control. His standard is above the industry benchmark with Dairy Australia suggesting that bulk cell counts of less than 150,000 cells/ml show “Excellent mastitis cell count control”. The results of Kaid’s most recent cell counts were 66,000 and 53,000 – excellent results indeed.

A quality base

The Hawkens have been with DFMC for more than 12 years, a testament to the long-term performance of the relationship. Kaid says that knowing and trusting the people at DFMC makes a difference.

Not only did they win DFMC’s 2017 national milk quality award, they also won DFMC’s 2016 Victorian milk quality award. They have established a solid reputation and legacy for quality that reflects the standards and values of all DFMC members.