Declining somatic cell counts signal a commitment to quality

Written by Emily Battmer

Milk quality has been improving nationwide, and four members who were recently recognized with silver National Dairy Quality Awards (NDQA) prove that DFA producers are among the best of the best.

Jeff Orr and Paige Mier from Prescott, Mich., Erik and Kathy Peterson from Filer, Idaho, Dan and Sandra Stuart from Lowell, Mich., and Marco Verhaar from Bad Axe, Mich., were nominated by their respective field representatives to enter a pool of 170 applications for the 2014 NDQA.

One of the key indicators of milk quality, somatic cell counts (SCC), have been dropping for more than a decade, with the national average reaching an all-time low of 199,000 in 2013, according to the Council on Dairy Breeding. This means that milk quality is better than ever, making this year’s awards even more competitive and prestigious.

In addition to SCC, the panel of judges for NDQA evaluates applicants for other measures of quality, systems of monitoring udder health, milking routine, protocols for detection and treatment of clinical and subclinical cases, and strategies for overall herd health and welfare.

Field representative Roland Wood nominated third-generation farmers Erik and Kathy Peterson because of their attention to the details examined by NDQA judges. The Petersons milk 125 cows and grow hay and corn on 120 acres at Will-O-Dell/Peteylee Registered Holsteins in Filer, Idaho.

Wood has worked with the Petersons for about 20 years, and he says the dairy has always had a history of high quality milk.

“Erik’s a hands-on producer,” Wood says. “He’s very meticulous in his cow prep and procedures in the barn, and he knows his cows almost individually.”

The Petersons’ procedure is straightforward but thorough.

“We use a predip, strip each quarter, check all quarters and wipe them with a towel, then attach the milkers,” Erik says. “When they’re finished milking, we do post-strip, double check and then do the post-dip.”

Erik, who inherited management responsibility for the dairy from his father-in-law, has been dairying for 38 years. Although this is his first National Dairy Quality Award, Peterson says he can’t remember a year when the dairy wasn’t recognized in some capacity for its superior milk quality.

In addition to the farm’s registered closed herd and strong genetics, Erik says cow comfort is a top priority. The operation features a freestall barn with sand bedding that is hand-raked three times a day, and the sand is refreshed twice a week. The Petersons dry treat every cow that goes dry, and those cows are also kept in a freestall area with sand bedding.

Additionally, the cows are groomed once a week, and individual maternity pens allow each cow that calves to be separated from the rest of the herd. Cleanliness and cow comfort are of utmost importance at the dairy, and Erik says this award validates the effort he and Kathy put in those areas.

“It means a lot. It means that all this hard work and the long hours have paid off,” he says.

Wood says the award means a lot for DFA as well.

“That’s what customers are demanding,” Wood says. “It puts DFA on the map and shows that we have quality producers, so when we go to our customers, they know what they’re getting. They don’t have to guess.”

Milk quality specialist Nathan Lippert agrees that milk quality matters to DFA’s customers and everyday consumers.