The 2016/17 season brought more challenges than most for a family owned and operated dairy farm on the Hauraki Plains, but there was one major highlight: the herd’s average bulk somatic cell count (SCC) dropped by half.
Despite torrential rain, widespread flooding and no shortage of mud, Ted and Cherie Nicholson finished 2016/17 with an average SCC of 140,000, down from 281,000 in 2015/16.
So what changed between last season and the one before? Several things, as it turns out.
Ted and his part-time farm worker stopped washing cows’ teats before every milking in the 30 aside herringbone, as per current DairyNZ recommendations. They teat sprayed the cows without fail, using Teat-X.
And after an on-farm visit and recommendation from the team at Farm Source Ngatea, Ted replaced all his existing round milking liners before calving with VacPlus Squares from Skellerup.
He says he’ll have a better idea at the end of this season which if any of these changes has had the single biggest impact on milk quality and herd health.
But back in late May he was pleased enough with the unique VacPlus Square milking liners to buy a new set for the start of 2017/18. “They had a real job talking me into them in the first place!” he says, describing Farm Source’s original recommendation. “Putting a square liner in a round cup did not sound promising. But I did a bit of Googling on them, and it seemed most people who change never go back, so we decided to give it a go.”
Early on, Ted didn’t feel the cows were milking out quite as well as they should have, but he puts that down to introducing the no-washing policy, which meant less teat stimulation.
Overall, the cows were ‘pretty happy’, he says, and unlike when he was using the round liners, there was no cup slip with the VacPlus Squares.
“They’re harder to get into the cup, and they’re harder to get out! But not one was damaged by a cow standing on it or anything like that. The other ones would get cut or slit quite easily, and we’d have to replace them. We didn’t have to replace any of these new ones during the season.”
Ted and Cherie milk 250 Friesian cross cows on 82ha at Paeroa on sometimes ‘seriously wet’ marine clay. Last season they dialled right back on imported supplements and moved to a System 2 feed regime.
As a result of this, and having half the farm underwater for extended periods of time, total production for 2016/17 dropped to 85,000kg milksolids (MS). Reproduction however is looking good – 8% empty, higher than the usual 2-3%, but much better than many other herds last season.