After multiple silver awards for milk quality, Lex and Rachael Moloney, Dixie, near Terang, have been named as gold medal winners in the 2020 Milk Quality Awards.
Lex and Rachael have been back on Lex's family farm for six years. Over that time they have increased their numbers from 280 to a 500-strong, autumn calving herd.
Throughout that period of expansion, there's been a strong focus on herd health, investment in infrastructure and a consistent approach to mastitis management.
"We keep a close eye on the filter sock and I check the Somatic Cell Count (SCC) on a daily basis.
"When there are clots on the filter or the SCC goes over 100,000 we start looking where the issue is and strip the herd to find the culprit," Mr Moloney said.
The 50-stand rotary dairy is fitted with automatic cup removers and auto teat spray.
Inflations are changed every six months, with the plant serviced in line with Quality Assurance guidelines.
The increase in cow numbers has led to two full-time employees joining the farm team - both completing the Cups On Cups Off training course.
"It's something we happily put employees through if they are interested, especially with less experienced staff,' Ms Moloney said.
"It helps them develop their skills and helps the farm too, so it's a win-win really. The guys working here now are very good at mastitis detection which certainly helps."
The Moloney's have worked with their vet to develop treatment protocols for when a case of mastitis is detected.
"When we find a case of mastitis the cow is drafted out and milked at the end to minimise the risk of cross contamination.
"Then we will look at the cow and her history to decide on the best way forward.
"Cows that are treated with antibiotics are well marked and milked at the end of milking to reduce the risk of antibiotic contamination," Mr Moloney said.
The farm had a fairly strict culling policy, especially when it came to cows getting reinfected in the same lactation, particularly if it was in the same quarter.
"If we have a few cases close together we often take samples and send them off to be cultured so that we know exactly which bug we are dealing with and can treat it accordingly," Mr Moloney said.
He said on-farm culturing was something the couple was interested in looking at.
"Being able to take a sample and know in 24 hours exactly what we are dealing with and have written protocols around each of the potential results is something to work towards," he said.
The herd was also fitted with cow activity monitors in February.
In addition to the data regarding heat detection, the couple has already noticed the potential for rumination information to assist them in identifying unwell cows earlier, including those with mastitis.
"Early detection of mastitis is key to maintaining a low SCC and our team are very good at that, but we are always looking for ways we can improve," Mr Moloney said.
"With a bit more time and understanding of all the available data, I think the collars will help us further improve cow health as well as hopefully improve in-calf rates,, Mr Moloney said.
Early detection of mastitis is key to maintaining a low SCC and our team are very good at that, but we are always looking for ways we can improve.
When it comes to dry cow therapy, all cows receive dry cow tubes and are teat sealed.
"The first season we were back on the farm we had a lot of heifers come in with mastitis, probably about 20 per cent.
"We didn't want to go through that again so started teat sealing them and now all the cows have that as well as blanket dry cow antibiotics." Mr Moloney said.
The annual awards are based on bulk milk cell counts.
Gold Awards are given to the Top 100 dairy farmers nationally for milk quality. Together with Silver Awards winners, these farmers are the top five per cent of Australian producers for milk quality.
Dairy Australia managing director David Nation said the industry could take pride in the achievement of all winners of the awards.
"Getting to this level takes consistent focus across the year on all aspects of the milking process, including effective mastitis control and maintaining a high level of attention to detail," Dr Nation said.
A focus on low BMCC helps increase milk yields and can improve farmer's milk income. Most processing companies pay a premium for milk with a BMCC below 250,000 cells/ml.
Dairy Australia analysis estimated a farmer milking 300 cows who lowered their BMCC from 250,000 to 100,000 would be financially better off to the tune of $39,000 per year.
Dairy Australia has also launched an online learning platform Milking and Mastitis Management.