Antibiotics in milk keeps us up at night

Yesterday I made a phone call that could cost our family thousands of dollars.

It had all started during the routine rounding up for the afternoon milking. I love rounding up. It’s a great time to chill out, enjoy the scenery, check the fences and troughs and admire the cows. I take my little red book and write down the numbers of any cows that need attention and have a look at the pastures to check the cows got the perfect amount of grass.

While scanning the herd, my eye rested on a young black cow with a ridiculously round belly and very little milk. I knew her. Only two weeks ago, I’d had her preg tested and sent on her annual holiday. On Sunday, I’d decided she was closer to calving than first thought and put her in the calving paddock.

But here she was with the milkers. After freezing in my tracks for a moment and taking a deep breath, I turned around and rushed to the house to start making phone calls. The first phone call was to our field officer at the co-op, Gregor.

“Gregor, I’ve just seen a cow in the herd who must have been milked this morning during her withhold period. What happens now?”

The problem was that this cow, 1216, had been treated with an antibiotic to cure and prevent mastitis during the critical calving period. That morning, Clarkie had found a lot of white “stuff” in one of the filters after milking. Now that I’d seen her, I knew it must have been teat seal – which is used to keep nasty bugs out of her teats, while holding in the antibiotics. The $64,000,000 question was: had the automatic cup removers taken the milking machines off in time to prevent antibiotics reaching the vat?

If there was even a trace of antibiotics in there, a whole day’s milk would have to be poured down the drain.

The only thing to do was take a sample from the vat into the local vet centre to be tested, a process which could take up to four hours. When I got back outside, Clarkie had taken over rounding up, wondering what on earth I was up to. Once I explained, he sent the cows back to the paddock while I shot off to town with a sick stomach and one of Zoe’s water bottles filled to the brim with milk.

On the way home after school, I explained to Zoe what it all meant, including the implications of pouring the milk down the drain and the implications of not being honest with Murray Goulburn about spotting the cow in the first place. It was a quiet trip and a long, long few hours while we waited to hear from vet Amy who’d stayed back late to test our sample. But our patience was finally rewarded with a negative result – four hours after normal milking time and at the end of an already very long working day, Clarkie fired up the machines again and topped up the vat with the day’s milk.

I am so appreciative of the support from Clarkie, Gregor and Amy during this crisis on old Macdonald’s farm. And, today, I am off to buy another electric fence unit that will be dedicated to the calving paddock.

2 thoughts on “Antibiotics in milk keeps us up at night

  1. I love hearing about all this life on farms!!

    Heard of a farm in Colac that has just installed a full on electronic system to track cows and separates them as they come in from the field.

    Sounds expensive thou very interesting!

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