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Back-to-school idea for dairy farmers

The study found some farmers were not using milking machines properly Keystone

Dairy farmers should be given refresher courses to top up their milk production skills, a study has suggested.

This content was published on May 6, 2008 - 13:05

Switzerland is among the top quality dairy producers. Last year a record volume of milk was processed, despite a drop in the number of farms.

Some producers would benefit from courses as they were not using milking machines properly and herd health was being affected, the authors of the joint study by Bern University and the Swiss Bovine Health Service said on Tuesday.

But a spokesman for Swiss milk producers said very few farmers would need the extra training, as the top quality of Swiss milk showed the industry was performing well.

The retrospective study looked at data from 59 farms that reported serious problems in milk quality and udder health between 1999 and 2004.

It found that many were using dairy machines inefficiently and 90 per cent did not follow national guidelines. More than half were making basic mistakes in milking practices and problem bacteria was found in nearly all farms.

The study authors said the problems were still relevant and have recommended to agricultural schools and veterinary workers that all plant managers and farmers be offered specialised training in milking technology, hygiene and production.

"Switzerland is ahead of most other countries in terms of our quality of milk but we should not lose that. It is important to realise that there are some problems concerning milking techniques;" Adrian Steiner, the study co–author told swissinfo.

"We think that this could be solved by giving the producers the chance to learn techniques again correctly from specialists. That's our recommendation."

Courses could be offered to all Swiss producers but would be aimed in particular at those having difficulties.

Faultless

Steiner said dairy production could become more problematic in the future and training could help address some issues.

Although only a few of Switzerland's 28,830 milk producers were encountering problems, they were under growing pressure to produce high volumes to meet rising demand but for low profit margins, a trend that would only continue.

"There are problems in milking work as shown by this study, because milking is something a producer does twice a day everyday and he just starts to think that some steps might not be absolutely necessary. This goes on until problems occur," said Steiner.

"Milking equipment is supposed to be tested once a year and the producer is not really the one who is technically in charge of everything. It is important that people from outside help them to understand the machines, give them hints on what to do so machines work properly."

Christophe Grosjean-Sommer, of the Swiss milk producers association says milk production in Switzerland is almost faultless, with just 198 deliveries halted in the last year because of germs or harmful bacteria.

But he admitted training could help those dairy farmers with problems. As monthly tests of milk quality are officially required, producers know if their production is running smoothly or not.

"Is it really worth doing refresher courses for 28,000 producers? We know that there are some producers with problems. It is necessary to study problems because it is in our interests to eliminate them early on.

"But overall, there are very few serious problems. Switzerland is one of the best quality milk producers. Most, 99.9%, do a very good job.

"We must congratulate them," Grosjean-Sommer said.

swissinfo, Jessica Dacey

In brief

A record volume of milk was produced in 2007. More than three million tonnes was produced, a slight increase on the previous year and 26,000 tonnes more than the earlier record in 2001.

But the number of dairy producers in Switzerland is on the decrease. It has nearly halved over the past two decades, falling from more than 57,000 producers in 1986 to 28,830 in 2007. The number dropped by 4% in 2007.

Switzerland's milk farmers are among the 60,000 farmers to receive direct payments from the state.

Cheese topped the list of dairy items produced, at more than 1.4 million tonnes, followed by milk and cream for consumption, yoghurt, ice cream and butter.

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Study

Bern University and Swiss Bovine Health Service collaborated on Herd Problem: Udder Health 65, a study of 59 farms in Switzerland.

The farms had reported problems to the health service in cow udders and insufficient quality in milk and had experienced problems for 15 months before calling the health service.

The study found that of the 59 farms:

- 17 farms could not deliver adequate milk
- 42 showed obvious failures in milking systems that farm managers could have noticed.
- 5 followed guidelines from the National Mastitis Council
- 36 made at latest 2 basic mistakes in milking practices
- Various infections were found in 51 farms.

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