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What A Turnaround! - And, YOU Are Doing It

Dr. Jeff Reneau

Published in Dairy Star February 26, 2005

Two years ago the milk somatic cell count (SCC) from Minnesota dairy farms was "in the tank". And that is not meant to be a pun. It is a fact. Of the top ten dairy states across the nation, Minnesota was last in milk quality. This was certainly not a very enviable position for a state known for its quality products. This concerned dairy industry people throughout the state. It was important to maintain demand nation-wide for dairy products from Minnesota. It was important for producers to understand the economic impact on their dairy operation if they had high somatic cell counts.

As a result of these concerns, Minnesota dairy producers, milk plant personnel, and many other dairy professionals got together and started an industry-wide milk quality initiative called "Quality Count$." This was developed and launched in July 2003. Now, thanks to the dedicated efforts of many people involved in the dairy business, there has been a tremendous milk quality turnaround in the state. Since the 'Quality Count$" program began, monthly SCC averages have steadily dropped every month for the past 19 months. That is impressive!! The January 2005 SCC is the lowest average for the month of January in the past 5 years. Processors indicate that 2004 was a record year in payment of milk quality premiums to dairy producers. Think of what these additional dollars on their milk checks have meant to dairy farm families. And, Minnesota producers are also getting some well deserved recognition for their efforts. Five of the top 26 National Dairy Quality Award winners in the U.S. were from Minnesota this past year. Two of the top 7 National Dairy Quality Platinum Award winners were from Minnesota. Just two years ago, no Minnesota dairy farm had ever won a National Dairy Quality Award.

What has brought about such a dramatic change? An attitude shift about milk quality is apparent in Minnesota. The saying that "attitude determines the altitude of our achievements" is true for anything we do. Research studies verify that attitude is a large factor in producing high quality milk. A study done in the Netherlands has demonstrated a significant management style difference between dairy farmers who had bulk tank somatic cell counts (BTSCC) less than 150,000 and those with BTSCC greater than 250,000. The farmers with herd BTSCC less than 150,000 were generally younger, more interested in education, better record keepers, and were more particular about keeping things clean as well as how the cows were fed and milked. The most striking difference was that these producers felt it was more important to do the job right than get it done fast.

It comes down to each and every producer doing his or her job in their own dairy operation, every day. Every bulk tank, every truck load, every milk plant that has high quality, low SCC milk means higher quality dairy products from Minnesota and higher milk premiums for the producer. How is your milk quality attitude? You can check the status of your milk quality attitude by taking the SCC risk Quiz at Quality Count$.

What can be done on your farm to reduce the SCC level? Here are two issues to think about:

The Minnesota "Quality Count$" program goal is to reduce the average SCC to less than 300,000. Much progress has been made these past 19 months. However, we must continue our efforts, work together to reach this goal, and have the attitude that "I can make a difference on my dairy farm." Have you joined the Minnesota Milk Quality parade yet? Your cooperation and participation is important for the future of Minnesota's dairy industry. "Quality Count$" fact sheets are available at or from any University of Minnesota Dairy Team member.

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