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Which farmers produce New Zealand’s best milk?

With 4.9 million cows being milked in New Zealand annually, according to figures from Go Dairy, it'll come as no surprise that Kiwi dairy farms produce an awful lot of the white stuff. Indeed, the same source states that when the 12 months leading up to June 2014 ended, New Zealand's various dairy companies had processed 20.7 billion litres of milk, a number that is hard to envisage.

With all this milk coming out of the country, it can be difficult to decide which dairy farms are producing the absolute creme de la creme of New Zealand's output. There are scientific methods, however, and of all of Fonterra's 10,500 herds, a dairy farming couple based in Taranaki have claimed the top spot – but how is quality of milk assessed?

Momentous milk

There are an enormous raft of different factors when it comes to appraising the pure quality of milk made across New Zealand's farms. One of the most important of these is the level of somatic cells that are found in a sample. These are white blood cells that are typically employed by the cow's immune system to battle infection in the udder. The larger the number of cells present, the more likely there is to be a bacteria or bug present. Thus, the lower the somatic cell count (SCC), the higher quality the milk is deemed to be. 

However, SCCs are not the the only criteria by which the quality of milk is judged, despite this aspect being a big part of the process. There are, in fact, as many as 12 elements that are taken into consideration when examining a sample. One of these is the level of thermoduric bacteria present – these are heat-resistant organisms that can endure and survive the high temperatures of pasteurisation. These bacteria can cause the quality of the product to markedly suffer, and significantly shorten its shelf life. Hence, the lower the number of thermoduric bacteria living in milk, the better standard it will be.

Additionally, should a a cow become sick, it will require antibiotics. This means that its milk will have to be taken out of the equation until the treatment is complete, and the animal has fully recovered. Therefore, when the cow produces again, it does so uninfected. 

Thus, delivering world-class milk is an enormously tough proposition, but who managed to produce the best?

Best of the best

Taking the crown this dairy season is Diane and Billy Moir, winning back the title they lost last season by the finest of margins. Indeed, the Moirs were in pole position for three years before being unseated and, with this track record, it's no surprise that the Moirs have fought back to reclaim the title. Judges found that their splendid herd was grade-free, and had an SCC of just 30,720, far below the quality cut-off point of 150,000 and handing them victory. So what are the Moirs' secrets?

"We don't do anything flash, but we pay attention to detail. We try to do the basics well and we take pride in a job done well," said Mr Moir.

"There's an element of luck to it. If you're not vigilant and you let the somatic cell count rise, something will happen," he concluded.

Milking the applause

The couple weren't the only dairy farmers to fly the flag for the Taranaki region. Indeed, seven of the nine best-performing herds in the country hailed from the area, which is testament to Taranaki's long, illustrious history of dairy farming. The world-class milk pouring out of the region has gained recognition on an international scale, too:

"It needs to be high quality to meet the food safety and quality standards of Fonterra, New Zealand's Government, the government authority of each overseas country we export to and our individual customers in those countries," said Fonterra general manager of milk quality, Dianne Schumacher, to NZFarmer.

New Zealand's best dairy herds hail from Taranaki.New Zealand's best dairy herds hail from Taranaki.
What could be better than a fresh glass of Taranaki milk?