September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Dreiers place high priority on high-quality milk

By Ron Johnson

Staff Writer


NORWALK, Wis. - Ask Randy and Becky Dreier why their herd’s somatic cell count (SCC) averaged a mere 84,000 last year and they won’t be able to give you a short answer. That’s because there isn’t one.

To get high-quality milk, these Monroe County farmers place a high priority on doing all the little things – and doing them right. Following that philosophy earned them a “gold” milk quality award from the National Mastitis Council (NMC) for 2010.

Last year’s honor was no flash in the pan. The year before, the Dreiers earned a higher award: “platinum.” What’s more, their milk quality honors date back years beyond that.

On the list of things the Dreiers do to produce top-quality milk are well over a dozen items. But the one, overarching key is simply “a lot of work,” they said.

The Dreiers milk 72 registered Holsteins in a tiestall barn. Their Hi-Lo Springs Farm maintains a herd average of approximately 24,000 pounds. Randy’s father, Glen, farms just down the road, and bred registered Holsteins until just several weeks ago, when he sold his herd.

Whether it’s quality milk, pounds in the bulk tank or cow comfort, Randy and Becky are firm believers in maintaining a regular routine. Randy makes the 70-yard jaunt to the white, two-story barn several times a day, to replace bedding and just keep an eye on the cattle.

Chopped cornstalks and chopped straw go onto the cows’ rubber mattresses three times a day, without fail. Randy tackles that half-hour chore – that includes scraping the mattresses and removing wet bedding - “right away in the morning,” he said. It’s also on his schedule for 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

“The main thing is to keep the bacteria count down” and lessen the chances of mastitis gaining a toehold, Randy said.

Until about two years ago, the Dreiers bought wood shavings for bedding. They were “nice to work with,” but became “expensive and hard to get,” Randy said. 

To meet their bedding needs, the Dreiers buy 300 or so large bales of straw annually. Randy makes 100 or more big bales of stalklage each year, too. Both types of bedding are ground and mixed in a 50-50 proportion.

Their commitment to quality continues at milking time. 

“We make sure the cows are clean and the milk is let down before we put the milkers on,” Becky said. “You can’t just go in and be sloppy.”

At milking time, Randy and Becky visually and physically check for signs of mastitis.

“If you know your cows, you can tell when you feel that quarter, if it’s a little off. “You’ve got to know your cows,” Becky said. Tell-tale signs are a bit of warmness or hardness to a quarter. 

One valuable tool for producing low-SCC milk is a good predip. Randy and Becky prefer one that’s iodine based and has hydrogen peroxide in it. They leave the predip on perhaps 15 seconds.

“It foams up and really shows where the dirt is on the teat. It’s really good for heifers,” Becky said.

Next comes washing teats and udders with “at least two” disposable towels per cow. After washing, the Dreiers strip out a little milk, to remove milk that’s likely the highest in somatic cells. They often use the California Mastitis Test (CMT) to gauge the milk’s quality. 

“That (CMT) paddle can tell you a lot,” Randy said.

The Dreiers especially make a point of using the CMT on fresh cows. 

“If there’s something just a little off, treat it right away. Don’t wait,” Becky said.

When feeling an udder reveals that a cow has fully let down her milk, the milker is attached. Since milk letdown can take a little time, Becky washes a few cows in advance.

The Dreiers milk with seven units. Each contains a sensor, prompting the milker to emit a “beep” when milk flow has diminished. Becky and Randy have used this type of milker more than a decade. 

“I wouldn’t milk without them,” Becky said.

These veteran dairy producers know how much cows can vary in their milk-out times. They say it can take from three to 15 minutes. 

For example, Alicia, a show cow, takes her sweet time and finishes after 15 minutes. But Randy and Becky don’t complain much: Alicia peaks at 140 pounds a day.

After she’s milked out, each cow has her teats dipped once again. The Dreiers refuse to cut corners on teat dips, so they buy a “premium” product that once again contains iodine.

This dip stays on the teats, providing a protective barrier against bacteria and other organisms. They could opt for a cheaper product, but choose not to.

“Usually, you get what you pay for,” Randy said.

Preventive maintenance is another important component of the Dreiers’ quality milk program. Their milking equipment dealer checks the pipeline’s vacuum pressure each month. Twice a year, he graphs the pressure of each pulsator, to see whether they are all at the same level.

Every 60 days, the Dreiers replace all the inflations. Every three months, they change the milk tubes. And at least once a year, they install new hoses.

With an eye toward consistency, only three people milk on Hi-Lo Springs Farm. Becky and Randy are the primary milkers, while their 18-year-old daughter, Ashley, helps during the summer.

The Dreiers have three more children. Derek, 20, is a student at Western Technical College, La Crosse. He joins his father and grandfather as recipients of the American FFA Degree. Glen earned the honor in 1964, while Randy got his in 1986.

Kelli, the couple’s younger daughter, is 14. Her chores include feeding calves and tending her three rabbits. Becky and Randy’s youngest is Jaden, five.

To keep their cows comfortable, the Dreiers have made improvements to the barn, including tunnel ventilation. A series of large fans at one end draws fresh air the length of the building.

Last fall, Randy and Becky had some of the older mattresses replaced. The new ones have a layer of carpet foam on top, with the fabric cover over that.

Apparently, the Holsteins like the mattresses, ventilation, and abundant bedding. 

“When we’re done milking, you look from that end down to this end of the barn and the cows are all laying down. I don’t know how many people have come in and said, ‘That’s cow comfort,’” Becky said.

A somatic cell average of 84,000 for the year is nothing to sneeze at. But Randy figures that over the past decade or so, it has averaged even lower – perhaps 70,000.

His milk buyer, Swiss Valley Farms, pays a $1-per-hundredweight bonus if the SCC is 100,000, Randy explains. As the SCC drops from that point, the bonus rises. This past March, the Dreiers’ SCC averaged 71,000 and they earned a bonus of $1.11 per hundredweight.

Low SCC numbers, Randy says, are achieved by “paying attention to the little things. They all add up.”

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