Brothers Marc and Daniel Cliche, owners of Ferme Catoche inc. of Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce in the Chaudière-Appalaches-Sud region, received the silver prize at the 2017 edition of the Lait'Xcellent provincial contest.
This article was originally written in French by Yvon Gendreau and was published in the June 2018 edition of the Producteur de Lait Québécois magazine.
They obtained this second place in Quebec thanks to an average of 5,000 total bacteria per ml and 40,833 somatic cells per ml. In addition to a trophy, they received a $1,500 scholarship.
Good cubicle management before all things
For these producers, cubicle management is the crucial element for obtaining quality milk. According to Marc, “bacteria likes heat and humidity. It is important that the animals stay clean and dry.” The two men check the wood shavings in the morning and in the evening and clean it when it is soiled. They add a litter twice a week. "If you keep cubicles full, it's no maintenance, says Marc. Keeping manure in the stall must also be avoided." These little tricks they tweaked a few weeks after their move to a freestall configuration and milking robot in November 2015.
Prior to these new installations, the cows were head-to-head in a tie-stall on mattresses and a litter of wood shavings. The quality of the milk was still good with an average of around 100,000 SC/ml, but the arrival of robotic milking and the freestall configuration helped to improve it. Of course, within the first three to four months of this change, leukocyte counts increased to almost 200,000 SC/ml. Very quickly, the Cliches understood that it was necessary to add more litters to fill the boxes, but also that it was necessary to eliminate the “matted” litter behind the animals. Adjusting the bar at the front also contributed to the animals relieving themselves in the aisle rather than in the cubicles. A few cases of Klebsiella mastitis in the new facilities also prompted them to choose this litter management and to review the cubicle management. "As Klebsiella is hard to deal with, we felt that we had to take a preventative approach," says Marc. A monthly veterinarian visit is also part of the preventive measures recommended by Ferme Catoche.
Choosing the wood shavings
Initially, the two brothers opted for cubicles and wood shavings for animal comfort and well-being, but then also for economic reasons. Because they transport it themselves and have two suppliers nearby, this type of bedding only costs them $100 to $125 per cubicle per year. “With cubicles filled with wood shavings, the cow does not slip to get up, and we have eliminated the shank wounds” (Marc).
Since the animals are in a freestall configuration, we make sure that the scrapers do their job well. They continuously work to collect manure in the aisles. Daniel says: “This way, cows are less likely to splash manure into the cubicle while walking. It also reduces the risk of developing foot rot within the herd. "
Making your milking robot a collaborator
In addition to clean animals, the environment and equipment, the Cliche brothers also use their milking robot to get the most out of the milk they produce. They ensure that it does its job well and that no products are missing at each milking stage: from teat cleaning until the end of milking.
Marc and Daniel also invested in an option they consider important for them: a somatic cell counter (OCC). This device measures the number of somatic cells for each cow, thus preventing infections and ensuring good milk quality monitoring. It can be set up to analyze the whole herd altogether, or a smaller group within the herd. If a cow has a high SCC, they try to see what is wrong.
For these producers, the milking robot and the data it collects make it possible to monitor their production. Twice a day, they consult the computer to see if everything is fine. "With all the data available, we can also act quickly if there is something to adjust" (Marc).
Of course, the robot is left to ensure that all milking steps are well done, from cleaning the teats and pre-milking with the teat preparation cup, to the milking itself with help from the four teat cups.
With a robot, if a milking order cannot be established, we rely once again on the technology to disinfect and self-sanitize between each cow, thus reducing the risk of infection from one animal to another. For cows being treated, we take care to identify them within the robot to prevent their milk from being found in the basin. If a serious problem affects a particular cow, she will be isolated in a place called the "back-robot".
Marc and Daniel also ensure their equipment’s maintenance and cleanliness. They pay attention to the robot’s logbook that signals that it is time to change the liners, the cap of the teat preparation cups, or even the milking tubes. Their dealer carries out preventive maintenance every four to six months to ensure the proper operation of the milking equipment.
The other little details
Udder and tail hair are amongst other things the Cliches pay attention to for hygiene reasons. A professional trimmer takes care of the cows’ hooves three times a year. Since they do not raise their replacement animals and sell their young animals at birth, they buy their cows at the production auction in their area. They ensure they look at somatic cell counts and will not place a bid if the count is higher than 100,000 SC/ml. In addition, to be eligible for this sale, cows must obtain a negative result in the California Mastitis Test (CMT).
Believing that the quality of milk is important for them, their animals and people who consume dairy products, Daniel and Marc do not want to leave anything to chance. As with most of the winners in this contest, the little details are now part of their routine and they most likely forgot to mention them all...
Portrait of the dairy
Daniel graduated from ITA de La Pocatière in animal production in 1999 and joined his father, Raymond, in 2000. After ten years spent working as a consultant for the Coop Alliance of St-Éphrem-de-Beauce, Marc with a bachelor’s in agronomy from Université Laval, took over from his father and joined Daniel in 2013. The two brothers are the seventh generation on the farm.
At Ferme Catoche, 57 heads, including 48 lactating cows, make up the Holstein herd. The land covers 123 hectares and hay is grown on 56 hectares. Self-sufficient, even the surplus is sold. In addition to milk, the Cliche brothers raise more than 150,000 chickens a year and cut some 1,700 maple trees.
Marc and his wife Vicky Talbot have four children: Maéva, 14, Océane 9, Léa 4 and Rosalie 1. Daniel and his wife Sophie Fortier also have 4 children: Sara, 13, Eve, 11, Pier-Luc, 8, and Anabelle, 7. Vicky and Sophie work off the farm. For the Cliches, quality of life is also an important concept. The arrival of the milking robot has allowed them to alternate weekends off and participate more in family life.
In closing, Marc and Daniel's parents have also distinguished themselves for the quality of their milk within their cooperative. An example that today the two brothers make a point of following.
Photos courtesy of Ferme Catoche, Marc Filion, and Yvon Gendreau