Vista Alegre Baserria Milk from the Vista Alegre farm The health standard and nutritional quality of the milk
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The health standard and nutritional quality of the milk PDF Print E-mail

Milk from the Vista Alegre dairy cows is analysed every two days when the refrigerated milk

storage tank is emptied. Samples are taken to the Official Milk Laboratory in Cantabria

(OMLC) to analyse different characteristics of our milk. Below we present the results of

these analyses from 2008 to 2023 during the process of desintensification and then conversion

to organic livestock farming:

(a)    Health standard of Vista Alegre farm milk: hygiene and cleanliness

Two parameters that are related to the degree of cleanliness and hygiene on the farm,

particularly in the milking parlour and the welfare of the dairy herd are analysed:

i.    Bacteriology: the cleaner and more hygienic barns, milking parlours and

refrigerated milk storage tanks are, the fewer bacteria or germs are present in milk.

The cooperative to which the farm still sells some milk gives a premium for milk

with under 100.000 bacteria / ml. As can be observed in the following graph,

results of analyses of samples of Vista Alegre farm milk taken from 2008 to 2023

 show that bacteria levels are consistently around 10.000 bacteria/ml and well

under the 100.000 bacteria/ml maximum guideline.

Conversion to organic farming (from 2011) does not seem to have neither a positive nor negative effect, except for  continuing fluctuations.

ii.    Somatic cell count (SCC): the natural defences of a dairy cow generate a certain level of somatic cells in milk. In general, between 100.000 and 200.000 somatic cells / ml of milk are considered to be acceptable. A total absence of somatic cells would suggest that the natural defences of a cow are malfunctioning. Higher levels, however, indicate health problems, such as mastitis (udder infection).  Big dairies usually demand a SCC of under 400.000 SC/ml. In the following graph the positive evolution of the SCC of the Vista Alegre farm dairy herd can be observed: it has only surpassed the 400.000 SC/ml barrier on six occasions since early 2008 and fthere is a clear trend towards an average SCC of around 150.000 cells /ml.

However there are also clear fluctuations in the SCC (as in the case of the bacteriological count). We think is probably due to two factors: changes in the dary herd feed regime and the need for the cows' defence systems to adapt to the non-usage of antibiotics  and other conventional veterinary products.

Conversion to organic livestock farming methods has meant significant changes in the dairy herd feed regime. 75% of this is now based on grass, whether grazed, taken freshly cut to the cowbarn, as silage or as hay. With regards to other feed components

* it is very hard to source organically produced maize/corn forrage ( due to GM contamination and the difficulties of weed management in organic production), and we thus initially completely eliminated maize forrage from the herd's feeding regime, despite maize being a very important feed component in the past.

* No queríamos seguir incluyendo soja en nuestra alimentación ganadera, no únicamente para evitar los transgénicos sino también por las implicaciones sociales de este cultivo en la actualidad. Las casas de piensos ofertan raciones de compuestos con soja ecológica pero inicialmente logramos raciones libres de soja.

Also, the systematic use of conventional veterinary products on conventional livestock farms has consequences for the development and regulation of each cow's defence system. When antibiotics are no longer used the said defence system has to regulate itself again and there may even be q temporary worsening of cows' health with a greater incidence of, for example, mastitis.

We had initially thought that conversion to organic livestock farming would eventually lead to a stable SCC around 150.00 cells/ml. We did not, however, bear in mind, that as we now manage far fewer cows (20/25 instead of 40/45) any change in the SCC of one cw would have quite an important impact on the average herd SCC.

To conclude, the SCC has never passed the 400.000 cells / ml de leche since conversion to organic livestock farming, the tendency of the average SCC is towards the 150.000 level, but we have fluctuations in our SCC as can be seen in the graph.

(b)    Nutritional quality of milk from the Vista Alegre dairy herd

Four parameters analysed by the OMLC laboratory are related to the nutritional quality of milk: total fat, protein and lactose content in milk on the one hand and the presence or absence of antibiotics on the other. The latter is actually an indication of a positive or negative contribution to consumer health (rather than nutrition per se).

i.    Protein content: according to the results of analyses undertaken by the OMLC Laboratory, from early 2008 to date (2023), the protein content in milk from the Vista Alegre farm herd has been almost consistently over 3.0% and generally above the 3.1%  demanded by the big dairies for a premium in milk price, as can be observed in the following graph.

As in the case of the Somatic Cell Count, there are continual fluctuations in the amount of protein in the dairy herd's milk but conversion to organic livestok farming seems to have favoured the tendency for higher average protein content.

ii.    El contenido en grasa: Los resultados de los análisis del LILC indican que desde principios del 2008 la leche del caserío Vista Alegre tiene un contenido en grasa que varia entre el 3,50 y 4,2% y generalmente mayor que el 3.7% exigido por la industria, alcanzando puntualmente más del 4.4%:

Durante el periodo de conversión a ecológico también hay fluctuaciones estacionales en el contenido en grasa e incluso hay resultados por debajo del 3.7% que exige la industria para el pago de la prima. De todos los parámetros de calidad, la de la grasa es la única que releva una tendencia negativa, aunque muy leve, como se puede observar en el gráfico.

ii.    Total fat content: according to the results of analyses undertaken by the OMLC Laboratory, from 2008 the total fat content of milk from the Vista Alegre farm herd hasvaried between 3,50 and 4,2% and has generaly exceeded the 3,7% demanded by the dairy industries. In fact our milk fat content is sometimes well over 4%. There are clear seasonal fluctuations in the fat content of our milk and it is the only parameter analysed here that has a very slight downwards tendency, as can be observed in the following graph.

iii.   Lactose: according to the results of analyses undertaken by the OMLC Laboratory, since early 2008 the lactose content (sugars naturally present in milk) of milk from the Vista Alegre dairy herd has been very stable since early 2008, fluctuating only very slightly between 4.4 and 4.9% of milk content but with a general increase, as can be observed in the following graph: