The Importance of Water Quality to Your Bottom Line

Everyone knows the importance of having clean, potable water. The water used to supply your milkhouse, to clean your equipment, and to feed your animals, which in most cases is the same water that supplies the farmhouse, must meet the same standards as drinking water. Regulation 761 of the Milk Act requires that all milk houses have a supply of potable water. Ontario Drinking Water Standards describe potable water as having zero E.coli and zero coliform per 100 ml.

Water contaminated with certain bacteria can cause serious animal health issues that directly affect milk quality. Coliforms, such as E. coli, are an indication of fecal contamination of the water supply, and can increase the risk of mastitis developing in the herd. Pseudomonas bacteria are very common in water sources and, in high numbers, can also cause mastitis. Pseudomonas bacteria can also readily create stubborn biofilms which adhere themselves to equipment surfaces, and intermittently shed high levels of bacteria into the milk supply.

Problems that arise from poor water quality are not limited to bacteriological quality. Hard water, buffers, and sediment can reduce the effectiveness of chlorinated alkali cleaners, acids and sanitizers in your milkline. Muddy or cloudy water can indicate that there is sediment, or high levels of floating soil particles, in your water supply. In the presence of alkaline cleaners, these particles can settle out of the water and deposit back on to the milkline. This creates an opportunity for a biofilm to form and negatively affect your milk quality.

Hard water can cause serious problems that will be expensive in the long run. High calcium or mineral salt levels in your water source reduces the effectiveness of your cleaners. Scale can also build up in the milklines, causing milkstone to deposit in the milkline more easily, which will eventually lead to a biofilm problem. If your water is too hard (more than 30 grains per gallon), you should consider installing a water softener. Softer water will clean your milklines more efficiently by reducing the amount of detergent needed, saving you money while improving your milk quality. Hard water can also shorten the life of your water heater. When build up from hard water occurs on the elements in a hot water heater, the water may not be heating up as quickly or to the proper temperature (at least 76 degrees Celsius). This can allow certain bacteria to flourish and compromise the quality of your milk. An important first step to setting up and evaluating a milking equipment wash system includes an analysis of water hardness properties. Consult your equipment dealer who is trained to conduct these tests.

Water sample bottles for bacteria testing are available at your county health unit. Consult with your county health unit for proper sampling technique. Since water quality can fluctuate throughout the year, it is important to test at a time when the risk of contamination to wells is higher such as during spring run-off, after a heavy rainfall, or if you notice any changes in the water colour, odour or smell. Also be aware that changes in land use next to wells, and well repairs may also impact water quality and are therefore good times to test. Everyone should be aware of and test their own well water out of concern for their own health, the health of their animals, and the impact it may have on their milk quality.

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