September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"It's almost the same every single day," Duron Bratland said. "There's very little change in our routine."
Routine is the No. 1 key to running their farm smoothly, and it's also how they've managed to earn the 25-year Blue Ribbon Milk Quality Award from their cooperative, Swiss Valley Farms. Gerald Bratland and his sons, Duron and Darin, were recently honored by the cooperative during a winter meeting, and each received awards as recognition. The Bratlands milk 108 cows on their farm, Viking Valley Dairy, in Houston County near Spring Grove, Minn.
"It's a good reflection of how well we're doing with our dairy farm, our quality milk and the product we're trying to produce," Duron said about why receiving the quality award is important to his family.
Over the years, the Bratlands have consistently held their Brown Swiss herd's somatic cell count under 150,000.
They've been able to keep this consistent with routine milking preparation. Duron milks every morning and night with one of three part-time employees.
"The boss is always here so things are done right," he said.
Eight milking units with automatic takeoffs are used in the 70-stall tiestall barn. Duron milks one side with four units while an employee milks the other side with the other four.
"Milking equipment needs to be clean and have maintenance done," Darin said.
The Bratlands change the liners every 60 days along with a regular maintenance checkup. A full check is done once a year.
While milking, cows are predipped with a foaming dip, stripped and then wiped with an individual paper towel before the unit is attached.
"We are very conscious of cleanliness," Duron said.
After they are done milking, the cows are postdipped with a one percent barrier dip. When temperatures dip below 20 degrees during the winter, the Bratlands apply an ointment called Frost Shield to their teats.
"This has been really good for us. We have no trouble with frostbite," Duron said.
After that, if the cow stays in the tiestall barn, the Bratlands sprinkle a cup of lime and a handful (or more if needed) of shavings under each cow. In the tiestall barn, cows lie on pasture mats bedded with chopped straw and shavings along with lime on the wet spots. The other portion of the herd is housed outside in a cornstalk bedded pack barn - a bunker the Bratlands no longer used and converted into extra space for the cows.
Cleanliness is very important to the Bratlands.
"Anytime we're in the barn we scrape," Duron said. "The cows should never be in a wet stall when we're here."
The cows are allowed outside during the winter for exercise. In the summer, the only time the cows are in the barn is during milking. The rest of the day, they graze along the hilltops of the Bratlands' farm.
At dryoff, the Bratlands use Spectramast Dry Cow and Orbeseal along with a 9-Way and J-Vac vaccine.
"We've had very few clinical mastitis cases," Duron said.
When cows freshen, each one's milk is tested using a CMT paddle for the first few days in milk.
"If she has high SCC in a quarter, we take care of it right away," Darin said.
The Bratlands are always watchful of their herd's overall SCC.
"If it goes any higher than 150,000 we try to find the problem right away," Duron said.
One way they take care of a problem cow is culling, which they take very seriously.
"It used to be that if we had an Excellent cow with a high somatic cell count, we would keep her longer and she would kill it (the herd's SCC)," Duron said.
Cows in the Bratlands' barn need to be functional, easy to milk and make money. If a cow's SCC is not under control within four months, she will be culled from the herd.
"This year has been easy to cull old cows because we had plenty of replacements," Darin said.
Milk from cows with high somatic cell count or mastitis is removed from the tank. To treat cows, the Bratlands use Spectramast LC and Banamine for a minimum of three days.
"Generally we have good luck with that and they turn around," Darin said.
Since eliminating many problem cows from the herd, milking has become easier, Darin said. Over the years, the Bratlands have also improved their genetics, too.
"We have better quality uddered cows than in the past," Duron said.
Overall, the Bratlands said they enjoy dairy farming and taking on the challenge to make quality milk.
"It's a lot of hard work and you can't take shortcuts," Duron said.
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