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The 400,000 SCC limit: Now it's for real

Jeff Reneau

As you probably already know, the 400,000 SCC milk quality limit is now in force. This is not a regulatory limit but rather a European Union market access requirement. However, this new milk quality requisite will affect almost all milk produced in the upper Midwest. Enforcement and record keeping will be the responsibility of your milk coop or processor. Any dairy farm that sells milk to a coop or processor that directly or indirectly sells milk or any milk component to the European Union must comply. The rolling 3-month geometric mean will be calculated by using at least one or more monthly SCC tests. Herds with a 3-month geometric mean SCC greater than 400,000 starting January 2012 will have a chance to become compliant; however, if by May 2012 herds are not able to improve SCC, their market access for milk will be very limited to nonexistent. If your herd is one of the herds struggling with high SCC there is help available from many sources such as your milk plant field staff, local veterinarian and the University of Minnesota Dairy Extension staff. For information about where to begin the problem solving process, check out the Dairy Extension Team website at Take the milk quality self-assessment quiz and/or click on the “milk quality and mastitis” section for detailed milk quality and mastitis problem solving information.

Once a herd has met compliance it needs to keep that 3-month rolling geometric mean under 400,000. For most Minnesota herds this is not a problem. Many herds are consistently doing much better than this and already enjoying the many benefits.

The benefits of receiving SCC quality premiums can be substantial but milk yield and component losses due to high SCC are more significant. Milk secretion from inflamed quarters damaged by infections produce milk with higher SCCs, decreased fat, increased protein (but less casein and more whey protein), less lactose and at lower yields than low SCC uninfected quarters. Although low SCC is not the only factor driving production efficiency it has been shown that herd SCC is a good indicator of overall herd management. Herds that have cows with low SCC produce more milk with higher amounts of components than herds with high SCC cows. Since cheese is the main use of milk in the upper Midwest, processors price milk using component payments. The value of payments for increased milk components in low SCC milk is often overlooked. The bottom line is that having a lower herd SCC is a win-win to cows, producers and processors in addition to the improvements in dairy product quality and shelf life for our consumers.

Table 1 shows the average pounds of milk, fat and protein production for categories of Herd DHIA SCC for over 66,000+ Minnesota DHIA herd summaries in 1800+ herds from 2007 to 2010. Herds with lower SCC consistently produced more milk, fat and protein than higher SCC herds. When SCC quality premiums and milk component pricing are considered, low SCC cows not only produce milk more efficiently but they also generate more gross income. Without input cost figures we can’t estimate the relative net income difference for low SCC cows compared to high SCC cows, but it is likely to be substantial.

Obviously reducing SCC and increasing milk yield including fat and protein output does make a difference in gross annual income per cow. To be competitive in the global dairy market, every dairy farm needs to continue to improve milk quality by having a management plan to reduce herd SCC and increase milk components.

Table 1. Minnesota DHIA average pounds of milk, fat and protein for each category of herd SCC and the estimated annual income per cow at current 2011 Multiple Component Pricing and SCC quality premiums.

DHIA Herd Summary Variables
n = analysis of 66,000+ herd summaries in 1800+ DHIA herds

DHIA Herd SCC Categories (1000s)









Rolling Herd Average Milk, lb





Rolling Herd Average SCC Category Means





Rolling Herd Average Fat, lb





Rolling Herd Average Fat, %





Rolling Herd Average Protein, lb





Rolling Herd Average Protein, %





SCC Quality Premium or Deduct per cwt





Total SCC Quality Premium or Deduct per cow per year





Average 2011 MCP for Fat (YTD $2.21/lb)





Average 2011 MCP for Protein (YTD $2.91/lb)





Average 2011 MCP for Other Solids (YTD $0.32/lb)





Total Estimated Gross Annual Income per Cow





*YTD (Nov 2011) average 2011 MCP for components
*Average SCC quality premiums using industry values for each SCC category mean
*Average other solids = 5.7%
*Volume and bacteria premiums not included

January 2012

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