FOR a seventh consecutive year Waroona dairy farmers Luke and Vicki Fitzpatrick are among the top 100 best quality milk producers in Australia.
The Fitzpatricks - Vicki is a former Western Dairy chairwoman - and three other consistent high quality WA dairy farm enterprises have been named as gold medal winners in Dairy Australia's 2020 Milk Quality Awards.
The other WA gold medal winners are Harold, Joan and Bevan Harrison trading as HD Harrison & Co, Rosa Glen, Ian and Ruth McGregor, Busselton and Matt and Angela Brett, Ferguson Valley.
The milk quality awards are based on low bulk milk cell count (BMCC) across the season and this year's medal took the Fitzpatrick's total tally to nine gold.
They milk 200 cows in an 11-a-side double-up herringbone dairy with the help of one full-time employee and one part-time worker and with a meticulous attention to detail.
Mr Fitzpatrick said he believed one of the biggest factors in their consistent gold-medal milk quality was a decision 20 years ago to stop feeding antibiotic milk to calves that would eventually end up in the herd.
"We feed our calves on milk that we could otherwise sell in order to avoid them developing antibiotic resistance," Mr Fitzpatrick said.
A switch to vented triangulated cup liners also helped - they are softer pulsating on teats than traditional round cup liners.
But basically, according to Mr Fitzpatrick, keeping the BMCC down is relatively simple - calm cows and very good hygiene.
"We keep the cows calm, there's no dogs, no yelling or going out into the yard to chase them up (onto the milking platforms), they come up in their own order and we give them time to let down (release their milk), we don't hurry them," he said.
"We've also turned the radio in the dairy off - it was more for the milkers than for the cows anyway, but the cows pick up on whether the milker is calm or not.
"The other thing is we use an iodine teat spray - every teat, every cow, every time."
The Fitzpatricks and their full-time employee have all completed Western Dairy cups-on, cups-off training courses for milkers and Dairy Australia's mastitis control Countdown program.
Another six WA dairy farmers won silver medals in the annual quality awards meaning they and the four gold medal winners were in the five per cent of Australian dairy farms with the lowest BMCC.
WA silver medal winners were GA & LE Jenkins, Cowaramup, J & C Italiano Family Trust, Harvey, Rodney and Nicole May trading as Ranchway Pty Ltd, Cowaramup, RG & EJ Moody trading as Glenwood Estate, RJ & G Parravicini, Cookernup and Ben and Caroline and Len and Jennifer Letchford, trading as Walsall Dairy, Busselton.
Most of them have been multiple quality award winners over the years.
Dairy Australia managing director David Nation congratulated the 2020 winners and said achieving gold and silver medal milk quality required "consistent focus across the year on all aspects of the milking process, including effective mastitis control and maintaining a high level of attention to detail".
"This dedication underpins the high quality of Australian dairy products," Dr Nation said.
He said it can also be more profitable with most processing companies paying a premium for milk with a BMCC below 250,000 cells per millilitre.
Dairy Australia analysis estimates that a farmer milking 300 cows who lowers their BMCC from 250,000 to 100,000 cells would be financially better off by $39,000 a year.
Dr Nation said Dairy Australia's Countdown program had helped support an industry-wide focus on profitable mastitis control in dairy herds.
Dairy Australia has also launched a new online on-farm learning platform this year called Milking and Mastitis Management, which was designed to help farmers train new and inexperienced milking staff.
Monthly BMCC averages are provided by milk processors for each of their suppliers and are used to calculate the annual average BMCC for each farm.