Award was originally not going to be handed out because of pandemic.
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Every cow has a collar that allows the Bryantons to track how much she is eating, moving around and other health indicators. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

A much coveted trophy for P.E.I. dairy farmers was awarded in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Quality Milk Award was established in 1984 by the P.E.I. Veterinary Medical Association, to recognize the Island dairy farm with the lowest somatic cell count average in the previous year.

“A lot of our members work with farmers on a daily basis, to help them in their herd production program,” said Dr. Gary Morgan, the association’s registrar.

“We saw the Quality Milk Award as a way to focus on the good work that farmers are doing, providing not only quality products for people, but in the care and welfare of their animals.”

Udder health

Last month, Morgan presented the winner’s trophy to Wade and Logan Bryanton of Tiny Acres Holsteins of Belmont, P.E.I.

Morgan said the scores are determined by the P.E.I. Dairy Lab and reflect the quality of the milk, as well as the health of the dairy herd.

“Somatic cells are a good indicator of udder health, and so low cells means that the environment that the cows live in is clean and healthy,” Morgan said.

“It’s a very good indicator of not only management, but also the comfort and care that the animals are receiving.”

Cow comfort

Morgan said many factors contribute to a cow’s udder health, including nutrition, sanitation and biosecurity, and clean and comfortable housing, as he sees at the winning farm.

“The environment here is, I think, ideal for cows. It’s freestall housing, which gives the cows freedom to move and live comfortably,” Morgan said.

“They’re always well bedded. The ventilation is excellent. These are things that really pay benefits to the farmers, not just in knowing that their animals are happy, but also in the bottom line of the farm’s operation.”

Morgan said the attention that the Bryantons pay to the comfort and health of their cows is reflected in their production, averaging more than 42 litres of milk per cow per day.

“It’s very direct. Happy cows are productive cows, and farmers certainly recognize that,” Morgan said.

“So they spend a lot of time making sure their animals are comfortable and happy, and living in a clean environment.”

Almost skipped award

Morgan said his association was thinking they would skip the annual award in 2020, because of COVID-19.

The association usually hands out the award at their annual general meeting, which was held virtually because of the pandemic.

“We thought, we’ll not bother with the award. But when I picked up the trophy from last year’s winner, which was Abelaine Farms, Elaine Buttimer was telling me how pleased they were to have received the award, and how important it was to her and her dairy colleagues,” Morgan said.

“I was really quite impressed by that. So it encouraged us to present it to this year’s winner.”

Logan Bryanton runs Tiny Acres Holsteins, along his father Wade, mother Kathy and fiancée Jess.

“To win this award, it’s more of a pride experience for me, to know we’re doing the best job we can here,” Bryanton said.

The Bryantons have five full-time staff, that help to milk the cows three times a day.

“Our staff appreciate seeing that, too, because they feel rewarded on doing such a great job. It’s a nice feeling for sure.”

Bryanton said they pay close attention to the health of the herd.

“We always try and keep our somatic cell count here as low as possible, and we have computer systems and every cow has a collar on her,” Bryanton said.

“We track rumination, and daily activity, and we do milk tests every month.”

Bryanton said they also closely track the amount of feed the cows are eating, as well as the milk that each is producing.

“Keeping the environment clean is pretty key, and also keeping your parlour and your milking system clean and up to date,” Bryanton said.

Morgan said the runner-up for 2020 was the farm of Debbie and Alan Aten of Springvale, P.E.I., and the second runner-up was Bernadale Holstein of Richmond, P.E.I.

Dairy products and, in particular, grass-fed products are performing strongly post-covid in overseas markets.

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