The Use of Farmer Directed Teams to Improve Milk Quality on Family Dairy Farms

Final Report for LNC01-190

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2001: $98,052.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Pamela Ruegg
University of Wisconsin Madison
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Project Information


Milk Quality program materials (Milk Money) were developed and revised to allow farmers to form self-directed milk quality teams. Continuous support for the teams was provided through a toll-free number and a heavily accessed web site. Milk quality teams were formed by Wisconsin dairy farms self identified (n = 30) as using MIG. The enrolled group of grazers gained $232/month in increased milk production, added $0.12 per hundredweight to their milk price through increased quality incentives, and saved an additional $201/month by reducing cases of clinical mastitis. SCC levels were reduced 275,050 and SPC levels went down by 6,426 – both factors indicating a strong improvement in milk quality by participating in Milk Money.


The production of high quality milk is one mechanism that farmers can employ to improve the milk price that they receive. Quality premiums paid by milk processors are based on bulk tank SCC (BTSCC) levels. Farm profitability is strengthened by attaining higher milk quality premiums and decreased financial losses associated with clinical and sub-clinical mastitis.

Short-term and intermediate-term outcomes focus on learning and initial action related to team leadership, management skills, and milk quality practices essential for high quality milk production. Long-term outcomes include: 1) Key milk quality management practices adopted by participants; 2) Dairy farm profitability will increase through higher quality milk production; 3) MQT remain viable following program completion; 4) MQTs become “standard” for the dairy industry; 5) Educational institutions (universities, technical colleges, extension) and the dairy industry will include programs to address the production of high quality milk

Upon enrollment in Milk Money, dairy producers form individual farm milk quality teams. Participation of the herd veterinarian and dairy plant field representative is recommended as core team members. Program material is adapted to fit the production cycle of MIG herds. Each individual milk quality team is supplied with program materials that form the basis of the monthly team meetings. Educational materials are based upon Hazard Analysis, Critical Control Point Program (HACCP) directed toward milk quality. The materials include information about effective meeting facilitation, team-building and relevant milk quality resources. The materials are structured to guide team members through milk quality situation analysis, identification of farm-specific critical control points for milk quality, goal setting, definition of action points, and assignation of responsibilities and determination of appropriate evaluation strategies.

Each enrolled farm conducts four monthly team meetings. Monthly meetings provide the opportunity for dairy team members to address milk quality issues specific to the individual dairy operation. Dairy farms participating in the program receive one free bulk culture (including postage) to help identify mastitis pathogens prevalent on the farm, program training including one training manual with supplemental milk quality resources (CDROM and video), and a $50 voucher toward consultant fees from a milk quality specialist (i.e. the local veterinarian or a consultant).

Project Objectives:

The objectives were to 1) enroll 150 grazing herds into a team-based milk quality program and form one farmer-directed team per enrolled team; 2) develop milk quality program materials; 3) revise milk quality program materials based on program evaluation; 4) provide continuous web based and phone support to program participants; 5) share program information.


Materials and methods:

Milk Money program materials were developed and revised to fit circumstances of grazing herds. Grazing herds were contacted through a specific recruitment plan developed to reach the grazing and organic community:
Apr 22 to -May 3 Recruitment plan Mike(1) & Pam (2) Plan to implement over the course of the SARE grant
Contact Mary Anderson 1. Schedule attendance (plr or mm) at 2 to 5 grazer team initial meetings2. Schedule attendance at 1-4 pasture walks to recruit herds (plr (1), mm (2) or sk(1) )
May 6 – 10 Revised forms Pam (1) & Mike (2) Revision of Milk Money Grazing materials for discussion. Contact 4 extension agents that work with grazers. Set up small group (2-6 herds per agent) training sessions for milk money. Find contacts in grazing community (at meetings)
May 13 – 17 Finalize forms MM & PR. Finish revision of forms and supporting materials
May 20 – 24 Revised forms to SK for printing. Print separate grazing forms
May 27-31 Press releases to recruit grazing herds. Press releases in 3-6 appropriate outlets.
June 3 – 14 Direct mailing to grazing herds. Mailed recruitment to grazing list maintained by PATS.
June 17 – July 3 Schedule 4 to 6 training sessions for grazing herds. Scheduled training sessions.
July 16 – Aug 16 Visit CROPP – discuss cooperation with organic herds. PR & SK Meeting with CROPP about Milk Money
August 23 Assess effectiveness. TEAM Plan for rest of year
On-going program support was available to program participants via current Wisconsin milk quality extension outlets such as web pages (“The Worlds Best Milk Quality Web Site”, email ([email protected]) and a toll-free phone number (1-866-TOP-MILK).

The Milk Money program was evaluated using a variety of methodologies. Pre- and post-program information and monthly farm data were recorded from individual dairy farm utilizing carbonless information sheets and returned in self-addressed stamped envelopes. Data was collected on milk quality premiums, bulk tank SCC, clinical mastitis, and herd management practices relevant to milk quality. Data was entered into a database and analyzed using statistical methods.

The results of the farmer-directed milk quality program was shared through traditional print media and electronic media as well as conferences and trade shows. Attendance at the Midwest Grazing Conference was utilized as a way to promote the program to a broad range of grazers.

Research results and discussion:

Project Outputs/Activities
This project generated the following outputs/activities:
· Dairy farms engaged in management intensive grazing practices (n=30) were enrolled in the program. Each enrolled dairy farm formed an individual milk quality team (MQT). Team members included dairy producers, farm employees, local veterinarians, extension agents, milk plant/cooperative reps, management consultants, and others.
· Milk Quality Program Materials (training manual, educational resources) were developed and adapted to the needs of dairy farms utilizing MIG. Forms were distributed to enrolled herds.

Research conclusions:

Of a total of 150 herds enrolled in 2001-2002, approximately 30 self identified as grazing herds. Wisconsin dairy producers tend to adopt a menu of best management practices as a result of participation in the Milk Money program.

Management Practice % Before % After
Record clinical mastitis 53 92
Culture all clinical mastitis 13 31
Culture bulk tank several times per year 59 87
Request mycoplasma culture 53 70
Discuss milk quality regularly with veterinarian 20 84
Analyze milking system 39 62
Written Treatment Protocol 16 55
Use CMT 68 80
Forestrip 86 92
Predip 88 97
Review SCC data monthly 78 91

Economic Analysis

Most of the grazing herds participating in the Milk Money program realized similar positive outcomes to Wisconsin dairy producers as a whole. Specific results from grazing herds for key milk quality indicators and economic outcomes are summarized here.

Indicator Before (mean) After (mean)
Bulk tank SCC 342000.00 309250.00
Standard Plate Count 12062.50 5636.36
Monthly production loss$403.14 $171.00
Milk Quality Premium $0.10 $0.22
Clinical mastitis loss $465.44 $264.85

In dollars and cents, this group of graziers gained $232/month in increased milk production, added $0.12 per hundredweight to their milk price through increased quality incentives, and saved an additional $201/month by reducing cases of clinical mastitis.

SCC levels were reduced 275,050 and SPC levels went down by 6,426 – both factors indicating a strong improvement in milk quality by participating in Milk Money.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Results from the Milk Money program are shared and distributed widely through a variety of media, seminars, and events. The outreach has included numerous articles in the agricultural media and general newspaper, radio and television coverage (see attachment 1 from Agriview, Feb 10, 2005).

Routine radio PSA spots were recorded and distributed through UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Communications Department News Service. Likewise, the college featured Milk Money in its 2004 CALS Science Report.

Monthly updates to the Milk Quality Resources web site ( frequently report findings about best management practices from the results of participation in the program. Additionally, the web site hosts a monthly email newsletter with global circulation that points out how producers can benefit from what is learned in Milk Money and directions to more resources on such topics.

UW Extension News Services provides distribution of news releases to local, state and national media outlets. Milk quality news based on program results are submitted to Extension News periodically and that news often finds its way into the media.

Milk quality outreach is supported by a “digital manual” on CD-ROM. The CD is distributed widely to dairy producers and dairy professionals. Content on the CD includes instructional video, animation, and resource papers to help producers and their professional advisors adopt best management practices proven to work by Milk Money participants.

More outreach about program results are carried out by the many UW extension agents who have worked with the program, more than 100 private veterinarians, field representatives from milk buying co-ops and firms, and other dairy professionals such as nutritionists and milking equipment specialists.

Results and instructions regarding how to achieve high quality milk are carried to the dairy business community though speaking at seminars and trade show displays. Personnel from the Milk Money program appear at Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, World Dairy Expo, Midwest Herd Health Conference, Grazing Conference, Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, and NMC annual meeting.

Wisconsin dairy producers also are queried via business reply mail (BRM) outreach if they would care for more information about milking healthier cows. If the producer responds by returning the card, that producer is contacted directly by phone. If there are enough BRM replies, the respondents are invited to a special seminar where they are shown program results and encouraged to participate in Milk Money.

Analysis and research derived from the results of Milk Money herds has led to acceptance of two articles in the Journal of Dairy Science.

1. Rodrigues, A. C. O., Caraviello, D., and P.L. Ruegg. 2005. Management and Financial Losses of Wisconsin Dairy Herds Enrolled in Self-Directed Milk Quality Teams. Submitted J Dairy Sci., Dec. 2004, accepted 3-21-05.

2. Rodrigues, A. C. O. and P. L. Ruegg. 2005. Actions and Outcomes of Wisconsin Dairy Farms Completing Milk Quality Teams. Submitted J Dairy Sci., Dec. 2004, accepted 3-21-05.

Article published in Agriview Feb 10, 2005

February 10, 2005
'Milk Money' Shows Byoms They're Doing Things Right

By Ron Johnson, Dairy Editor

Sometimes it's nice to learn that you're doing things right.

So it was for Dan and Judy Byom when they signed up for the Milk Money Program. The scrutiny of their milking procedures and other aspects of the couple's 40-cow herd did not turn up any glaring deficiencies.

But it did help these Trempealeau County registered Holstein breeders pocket an average of 35 cents more per hundredweight from quality premiums. With a herd average of approximately 18,500 pounds per cow, that equates to an additional $64.75 per cow per year, or nearly $2,600 when measured across 40 cows.

"It's (Milk Money) another tool, and it really doesn't cost you anything," Dan says. He adds that it's like a refresher course on proper milking and sanitation.

He points out that the dairy professionals that make up every farm's Milk Money "team" visit lots of farms during the course of their everyday work and Milk Money participation. They've observed what works on other farms.

"Norwegians that we are, we don't get away from the farm too much," Dan says with a laugh. "We like the coffee here. When it's milking time, we're here milking. We're not over at the neighbors', seeing how they milk their cows."

Dan and Judy signed up for Milk Money in the spring of 2002, just before their Round-Barn-Vu Farm earned certification as "organic." They knew they were shipping pretty good milk at the time - with a somatic cell count (SCC) ranging between 150,000 and 180,000.

But they wanted to bring that down even more, especially since they would soon start shipping organic milk.

"We felt the Milk Money Program was another tool we could use to produce quality milk. Quality milk is very important to us and Organic Choice (the company that buys their milk)," says Dan.

Their goal - with the help of Milk Money - was to drop their milk's SCC to an average of less than 100,000 for an entire year.

"There are herds doing that," says Dan. "It is possible."

While the Byoms have not gotten the farm's SCC to under 100,000, they did lower it to an average of 120,000, Dan says.

Even if they did not reach their SCC goal, Dan says the Milk Money evaluations yielded another benefit.

"It made us even more conscious yet of the fine details. They need to be followed every day," he says.

The Byoms ended up changing very few of their milking procedures. Dan says about all they altered was when they put milkers on after udder preparation. Now they attach milkers "a little sooner," he points out.

And, they boosted the milking system's vacuum just a bit.

When the Milk Money analysis was finished, Judy and Dan asked a factory representative from their milking equipment supplier to evaluate various components of their pipeline. He checked the water and looked at the amounts of chemicals they used for cleaning the system.

They used a milking machine maintenance program before their Milk Money involvement and still do. Dan says they also make a point of paying attention to details such as changing inflations every 60 days.

Milk Money is supported by UW-Extension and funded by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) and other dairy industry professionals. Its those industry professionals who comprise a farm's Milk Money team.

Each farm chooses who it wants on its team. Dan and Judy included Dave Oelkers and Curt Nelson, from Riverland Energy, their electricity supplier; nutritionist Ken Anderson, whom Dan describes as "second to none"; veterinarian Paul Dettloff; their dairy plant fieldman at the time, Todd Caulum; Extension agent John Zander; and milking equipment representative Bob Gilbertson.

Those people, plus Judy and Dan, literally gathered 'round the Byoms' kitchen table for monthly meetings. They talked about the farm's history, team goals, and things they could each contribute.

None of the team members was paid for assisting the Byoms. Instead, Dan says, they participated because they care about seeing dairy farms stay profitable and because they believe in the value of the Milk Money effort.

Those meetings lasted a few months, resulting in the fine-tuning mentioned above. Dan says more dairy producers might want to look into the Milk Money Program.

"It doesn't take much to make 20 to 30 cents difference in your pay price," he points out.
For more information on Milk Money, call 866-TOP-MILK (866-867-6455).

Dan and Judy began shipping certified organic milk not quite three years ago. But they'd been on the path to organic farming quite some time before that.

At the time of a barn fire in 1999, they were on their way. The fire damaged the calf barn wing, but Dan and Judy and the rest of the family were able to get all the cattle out, thanks to a 4 a.m. alert by a passing truck driver, who also called the fire department.

Dan says the Galesville Volunteer Fire Department responded in "record time," assisted by departments from surrounding communities.
The Byoms treated the 23 calves that suffered from smoke inhalation using aloe vera, garlic and echinacea, and upon their vet's recommendation, penicillin.

"There were no drugs of any kind given to the cows," Dan says. Most of them walked away from the fire just fine, he adds, with "very little" decline in milk production. About a month later, one cow developed pneumonia.

Thanks to only roof damage to the barn, the Byoms were able to milk in the structure at 8 a.m. the same day of the fire.

Now, Dan figures, Round-Barn-Vu Farm has not sprayed any of its fields for 15 years. And, he says, they do not use chemicals anyplace.

They stopped administering antibiotics to their cattle "as soon as we could see there was a big benefit from not using them - healthier animals, more resistance to whatever you have out there," he explains.

While the price they get for their organic milk has been running about $5 per hundredweight above what standard milk brings, Dan assures that's not why they switched.

"This is the way we want to farm," he emphasizes. And, the niche for organic milk "helps preserve the small family farm because of the rewards of a little better pay price."

Judy and Dan also like the fact that the price of organic milk does not fluctuate much. Dan says they were notified Jan. 1 that they would be paid $21 per hundredweight "until further notice."

That relatively steady price makes for easier, more accurate budgeting. Their milk buyer, Organic Choice, was formed a few years back by a handful of Wisconsin dairy farmers, says Dan.

"They're a group of dedicated farmers and they're in the milk business themselves, producing the product and marketing the product," he explains.

The Byoms say they want to assure consumers that they are getting top-quality milk. Dan mentions that they recently learned from their vet that their farm is now certified as Johne's free.

Dan and Judy's place is a classic example of a small - but successful - dairy farm. Family is important to them, along with community involvement.

"Family" includes their third-grade daughter, Sara, whom her dad describes as an "apprentice calf feeder." Then there's daughter Amy, married to Cliff Backler. They live at Sauk City. Daughter Erin is married to Seth Anderson, and they live at Ettrick.

"Family" doesn't end there. Dan does some farming with his brothers, Roger and Tim, who live just a hoot and a holler away and also ship their milk to Organic Choice. Roger's wife is Sue; Tim's is Sheryl. Both couples are raising a next generation of Byoms.

Meanwhile, Judy's sister, Cindy, and her husband, Steve George live nearby. Steve drives a milk truck. Judy's mom and dad, Earl and Lois Ravnum, also live in the area.

And, Dan's mom, Eleanor, lives between her boys' farms. Dan's dad, Gerald, died in 1974, when he was in his 50s. Says Dan, "I wish we would've had more time to farm together."

Now, what's this "Round-Barn-Vu" farm name all about?

A fellow by the name of Richard Bibby built the round barn in 1902. The Byoms acquired it when Dan's dad bought the farm Dan and Judy now own.
Dan says the round barn stood about 40 feet to the top of the cupola that adorned its center silo. The barn measured a bit more than 200 feet around. The Byoms fitted it with a pipeline and had 32 stalls in it. They fed the cows in the barn's center and there was a circular barn cleaner, too.

In 1980 they added a conventional-style calf barn to the round barn.

"We enjoyed it. I would have loved to have kept the round barn," Dan says.

But time had other ideas. In 1996 Dan and Judy had the noble barn torn down. It was splitting apart in the middle, starting at the top, and they deemed it too costly to repair.

Says Dan, "We wanted to stay a relatively small family farm and thought a conventional barn was the way we wanted to go. So that's what we did.
"The round barn was a landmark in the area," Dan adds. "People still look for the round barn."

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

The Milk Money program has been successfully adopted by many Wisconsin dairy herds. Adoption by grazing herds was less than anticipated but the grazing herds that chose to enroll showed similar success to herds using confinement systems. Additional mechanisms of targeting information and enrollment of grazing herds should be pursued.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.