Earlier this year, Strathalbyn farmer Brett Fiebig was named in the top five percent of milk producers at the 2020 Australian Milk Quality Awards. The awards recognise the farms with the highest milk quality in Australia based on bulk milk cell count.
For Brett, the award is recognition of his efforts to build a happy, healthy herd since taking over the dairy in 2017.
He attributes his quality cell count to factors including low-stress stock handling by not using dogs, eliminating water around udders when milking, and maintaining the milking plant to a high standard.
“My top three priorities are to keep a close eye on cows milking out correctly, teat spraying and keeping the cows well-fed,” Brett said.
Brett has a Herringbone dairy and says his relationship with the dairy servicing team at AgriDairies is also key.
“They come in twice a year to service my equipment. AgriDairies thoroughly check everything over including detergents and cleaning systems, which gives me peace of mind,” he said.
“In terms of the milk quality results I’m achieving, it’s not just one thing. My cows are always kept really well fed, which is important, but also expensive as I buy all of my feed in.
“And my cows are relaxed in the dairy and not stressed in any way. When I took over the dairy, I leased 100 cows and they’d always had dogs used on them. I said no to the dogs and within three weeks my cell count went from 140,000 to 80,000.”
The herd testing that Brett undertakes also helps by monitoring individual cow health which contributes to low cell count numbers.
“I’ve now got 120 cows of my own and because of the relatively small herd, I can move them without dogs – but it is tough on my voice,” Brett said.
“But it’s worth it as I really believe that calm, well fed cows are happy cows and I think there’s a definite connection to milk quality. It’s a great herd of cows that I’ve built up and I’m very proud of them.”
Brett, a sole operator, also has a constant and clear picture of the health status of each animal. “I milk the cows myself all the time, so I know when something’s off with any of my cows. When you’re swapping between workers, you don’t get the same level of knowledge of the herd,” he said.
Brett acknowledged that many factors that contribute to herd health, but dairy hygiene and following his food safety program were critical factors in ensuring the safety and quality of his product.
Brett said a good relationship with his processor, Saputo Dairy Australia, was also key to his milk quality through the supply chain.
“They know what they’re doing – they test the milk for everything and give me feedback to keep quality levels high,” Brett said.
“They’ve also been really supportive during the drought, helping me with an interest free loan. And a lot of the companies I buy fodder from were also very helpful with payment terms through the drought.
“Everyone wants to see farmers keep going – they know how hard it is, especially during droughts. Now that it’s raining and milk prices are up, and feed prices are down, things are looking much more positive.”