AN electronic somatic cell counter to analyse milk samples instantly, coupled with old fashioned care and vigilance, are the May family's solutions to keeping the bulk milk cell count (BMCC) low at their Cowaramup dairy.
They were named last Thursday in Dairy Australia's top 100 dairy farmers nationally with the lowest BMCC and their gold milk quality award will join other milk quality awards proudly displayed on a jarrah plaque in their dairy.
"It cost us an and arm and a leg, but it was a really good investment," Nicole May said of the DeLaval cell counter she, her husband Rodney, son Justin and overseas workers they employ under the international Rural Exchange program, use in the dairy.
"If we suspect a particular cow is not right - if she has a hard (udder) quarter or something we think is not normal - we can go back with the cell counter, get a milk sample to check and get a read out of the count in less than a minute," Ms May said.
The somatic cell count in milk is an indicator of teat health and a rising BMCC can indicate the presence in the herd of a contagious bacterial infection, such as mastitis, before any physical signs begin to affect milk quality, production level or cow health.
"The rest of it (secret to a low BMCC) is just keeping a close eye on what is going on," Ms May said.
"Justin does most of the milking and he's brilliant at picking things up early, he's right on top of what's happening with the herd.
"Rodney has been in the Rural Exchange program since 1990 and our farm workers come here for six months but we train them properly and there's always one of us - myself, Rodney or Justin - working in the shed with them.
"Most of them have come off farms in Europe or are students - they've studied agriculture - so they have some idea of what goes on.
"If they don't have any milking experience that's fine because then they don't have any bad habits and we can teach them the way we want them to milk."
Mr May has been dairy farming for 55 years and Justin, 20, joined his parents on the farm after graduating year 12 at WA College of Agriculture, Harvey.
His brother Lucas, 18, works on a cropping farm at Gnowangerup, preferring large equipment to cows and two older siblings are not involved in agriculture.
The Mays produce more than two million litres of milk each year from a herd of 230 Holsteins run across a Cowaramup farm of 235 hectares they own and 202ha they lease nearby, with dry lease blocks further afield.
Their 22-year-old dairy was upgraded six years ago, converted from a swing-over herringbone to 15-a-side double-up rapid-exit dairy.
In the double up each platform has its own sets of claws and cups instead of one set being used both sides.
The change has helped in keeping the BMCC low, making it easier to track down the likely source of a rise in the count.
The same cows tend to end up in the same place on the same side each milking run, Ms May said, so the same cups tend to go on the same cows which helps limit exposure to any infection in the herd.
The Mays also teat spray, use new gloves each milking and replace cup liners and milk line rubbers regularly.
All freshly-calved cows are teat sprayed with iodine before and after each milking for up to four days.
They are the sort of precautions taken in most dairies, but it is the attention to detail which sets the Mays apart.
Their cows leave the dairy yard via an automatic drafting gate controlled by consoles in the dairy pit.
The dairy is on high ground but some of the pasture paddocks are low lying so Mr May spends a lot of time building up and grooming laneways so the cows are not walking through mud to and from the dairy, another example of attention to detail in reducing bacterial infection risk.
Night paddocks are close to the dairy so cows have less distance to walk on damp mornings.
Unusual on dairy farms, the Mays rely on their four dogs to bring the cows in while they prepare for morning milking.
"The dogs are like having an extra worker without having to pay an extra wage," Ms May said.
"We train them, they're wonderful, they can do everything apart from open and shut gates.
"But once the gates are set up, they can bring the cows in on their own."
In the dairy the number of cows from the previous milking is chalked on a blackboard.
Only rarely do the dogs leave a cow behind in the paddock and the morning number fails to tally with the blackboard count.