A dairy veterinarian wears a lot of hats – from reproduction physiologist to immunologist to milk quality consultant. It’s impossible to be the “expert” in these areas, but knowing where to find reputable resources can be invaluable.

Due to client requests, some dairy veterinarians have added milk quality consulting to their repertoire. To hone their skills, many milk quality consultants, including veterinarians, turn to National Mastitis Council (NMC), which offers RACE-approved continuing education units.

Take Dr. Phil Meadows, Mitchell Veterinary Services, Stratford, Ont., Canada, for example. “I was in practice for about 10 years and there was a void for independent milk equipment analysis,” said Meadows. Historically, Dairy Farmers of Ontario had technicians who performed on-farm milking routine and equipment evaluations for a fee. Meadows referred several clients to this service and recognized the need for such a service. “When the Ontario udder health technician program was discontinued, I decided to learn how to assess milking equipment.”

Dr. David Reid’s path was a little less direct. As a seventh grader in Rhode Island, he set his sights on becoming a veterinarian. His Kansas State University mentors convinced him to study dairy cattle, rather than small animals. From there, he landed at a veterinary clinic in Hazel Green, Wis., where he still lives today.

Reid quickly learned that he didn’t like treating mastitis cows. “In the 1970s, we used lots of intravenous products that are no longer used to treat mastitis and most producers did not treat their own cows; they called the veterinarian,” said Reid.

Tackling deficiencies

Attending the 1974 AABP convention quality milk seminar, Reid was inspired to purchase test equipment and he began evaluating milking equipment. “It quickly became apparent there were milking equipment deficiencies and more importantly udder preparation deficiencies,” said Reid. “Milk quality became a priority for me.” In 1987, Reid launched his milk quality consulting practice.

For Dr. Brandon Treichler, Select Milk Producers quality control veterinarian, Canyon, Texas, the milk quality journey occurred differently. He was a milk quality consultant before he became a veterinarian. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he worked for BouMatic LLC. “I am living, breathing proof that with focus and passion, anyone can become proficient with the milking equipment portion of milk quality,” said Treichler.

Partnering with peers

Meadows noted that milk quality consulting can be sporadic in his area. To create more business, he contacted area vet clinics and he acquired a significant portion of his milk quality business as referrals from colleagues.

“My approach is to work with the herd veterinarian, milk equipment company personnel, nutritionist and herd owner/manager to develop an action plan, based on my analysis recommendations,” said Meadows. “Often, I am able to provide evidence showing that milking equipment or milking routines are not the largest bottleneck from achieving the owner’s milk quality goals. Milking equipment function is the catalyst to get someone to the farm and assess systems, but the action list created from the team meeting after my analysis often includes non-equipment items, along with some milk equipment/routine adjustments.”

Calling his on-farm evaluation experiences eye opening and challenging, Meadows adds, “It’s a natural fit to have my veterinary experience and udder health knowledge complement my milking equipment understanding. It is also interesting how much non-milk quality information I gather during milking time – anything from how calves receive their first colostrum feeding to how much fresh feed is available to cows after milking.”

Reid admits that milk quality production medicine can be frustrating, but overall it is a very rewarding career. It requires being present at milking times and often traveling long distances to maintain enough clientele to support the practice.

NMC fosters standardization

“Many veterinarians are intimidated by the perceived need to test milking equipment,” said Reid. Veterinarians need to understand how to test and evaluate numbers on milking equipment dealer forms. Fortunately, most companies use similar terminology and forms, due to NMC’s influence in standardizing testing protocols. Veterinarians have background in bacteriology, milking physiology and environmental assessments to offer sound advice in these critical areas. The local veterinarian is generally a trusted adviser.

While working for BouMatic, Treichler was introduced to NMC. “This group’s passion for advancing milk quality motivated me to become involved in NMC,” said Treichler. He joined several committees and has instructed short courses for more than 10 years.

Medical training complements milking evaluation skills

“There is plenty of opportunity within the industry for milk quality consulting if you’re willing to go out and create it,” said Treichler. Be mindful that before you can market your consulting services, you need to possess a certain proficiency level. This may mean spending some time in milking parlors that may not be completely billable. “That said, our medical training, observational skills and thorough examination approach can allow us to create value – even as you grow your knowledge and skill base. Many companies offer free consulting services. As a practitioner, your advantage is that you are impartial and not just trying to sell products.”

Meadows concurs with Treichler. “Milk quality should be one of the dairy vet’s herd health cornerstones. Dairy veterinarians are positioned with the skillset to be the most qualified adviser for monitoring milk quality and troubleshooting when necessary. If you choose not to embrace this opportunity, there will be someone else who will do this work for your client.”

NMC offers comprehensive resources

To gain milk quality knowledge and experience, Meadows recommends the NMC website and conferences. “These resources help with diagnostic templates and testing guidelines to make your time on farm much more efficient.”

“The most valuable part of NMC is the networking that goes on outside of the sessions,” said Treichler. “I have made and fostered many industry connections at NMC meetings. “Also, I highly value the Technology Transfer (poster) sessions, as it helps me stay up to speed with the latest milk quality research.”

Treichler holds NMC short courses in high regard because they are practical and offer significant interaction with instructors and colleagues. “NMC is a global milk quality organization, which encompasses so much more than SCC and mastitis,” said Treichler. Topics also include food safety, residue avoidance and judicious antimicrobial use.

“NMC is the best organization to obtain training and experience in milk quality” said Reid. “By taking advantage of short courses and annual and regional meeting programs, veterinarians can develop the skills necessary to offer milk quality programs to their clients.”

In Treichler’s mind, there’s no doubt that the interest in producing quality milk will grow. “Increased focus on value-added dairy products combined with a saturated milk market will elevate the pressure for dairies to consistently make quality milk,” said Treichler.