Impact of Herd Management Practices on Bulk Tank Contents

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to assess the association of bulk tank milk standard plate counts, bulk tank coliform counts (CC), and the presence of Staphylococcus aureus in bulk tank milk with various management and farm characteristics on organic and conventional dairy farms throughout New York, Wisconsin, and Oregon. Data from size-matched organic farms (n = 192), conventional nongrazing farms (n = 64), and conventional grazing farms (n = 36) were collected at a single visit for each farm. Of the 292 farms visited, 290 bulk tank milk samples were collected. Statistical models were created using data from all herds in the study, as well as exclusively for the organic subset of herds. Because of incomplete data, 267 of 290 herds were analyzed for total herd modeling, and 173 of 190 organic herds were analyzed for the organic herd modeling. Overall, more bulk tanks from organic farms had Staph. aureus cultured from them (62% of organic herds, 42% conventional nongrazing herds, and 43% of conventional grazing herds), whereas fewer organic herds had a high CC, defined as >= 50 cfu/mL, than conventional farms in the study. A high standard plate count (x1,000 cfu/mL) was associated with decreased body condition score of adult cows and decreased milk production in both models. Several variables were significant only in the model created using all herds or only in organic herds. The presence of Staph. aureus in the bulk tank milk was associated with fewer people treating mastitis, increased age of housing, and a higher percentage of cows with 3 or fewer teats in both the organic and total herd models. The Staph. aureus total herd model also showed a relationship with fewer first-lactation animals, higher hock scores, and less use of automatic takeoffs at milking. High bulk tank CC was related to feeding a total mixed ration and using natural service in nonlactating heifers in both models. Overall, attentive management and use of outside resources were useful with regard to CC on organic farms. In all models except the organic CC model, we observed an association with the average reported somatic cell count from 3 mo before the herd visit, indicating that many of the regularly tested milk quality parameters are interconnected. In conclusion, we found that conventional and organic farms are similar in regard to overall herd management, but each grazing system faces unique challenges when managing milk quality.

Reference: Cicconi-Hogan, K. M., et al. (2013). Risk factors associated with bulk tank standard plate count, bulk tank coliform count, and the presence of Staphylococcus aureus on organic and conventional dairy farms in the United States. Journal of Dairy Science 96(12): 7578-7590. Online: