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How do the Swiss produce the world's best quality milk?

Jeff Reneau

Published in Dairy Star January 13, 2007

Switzerland is known for high quality.  When we think of Swiss chocolate, watches, the Swiss Army knife or other items, we always think of quality.  The people of Switzerland seem to have a quality mind set in whatever they do.  Therefore, it should be no surprise to us that the Swiss have the world's highest quality milk.  Since 1992, the national average somatic cell count (SCC) in Switzerland has been just over 100,000. 

The pressure is on the U.S. to improve milk quality in order to be more competitive globally.  Milk quality is different than milk safety.  All milk for human consumption must meet the minimum safety standards of 750,000 SCC and under 100,000 bacteria counts with no antibiotic or chemical residues.  Public demand for improvement in milk quality beyond current milk safety standards is on the upswing.  High SCC significantly reduces cheese yields, texture and taste.  It has also been recognized that raw milk quality has a dramatic effect on fluid milk taste and shelf life.  Because the current consolidation of the grocery and dairy processing business are resulting in longer food distribution chains, shelf life has become very important.  For the future, this means in order for dairy products to remain "fresh" and acceptable to consumers, longer shelf life products will be required. 

How do the Swiss produce the world's highest quality milk?  They have 750,000 dairy cows and 42,000 dairy herds.  Average herd size is small (17), production lower (12,000 lbs/cow) and average milk price is higher ($26/cwt).  Overall, the economic magnitude of the Swiss dairy industry is on par with Minnesota (2.2 billion dollars per year).  While smaller herd size and lower production with lots of pasture use may explain the low average SCC somewhat, this is not the whole story.  Not only is milk safety regulated in Switzerland but also milk quality.  Since 1973, there have been very strong penalties for any milk over established milk quality standards for bacteria, SCC and antibiotics.  For example, the SCC pricing scheme is shown in Table 1.  After a Bulk Tank Somatic Cell Count (BTSCC) quality violation, Swiss dairies must produce milk with BTSCCs less than 350,000 for 3 consecutive months in order to be restored to full milk price.  There are similar pricing schemes for bacteria and antibiotics.

Needless to say, with this very stiff penalty system, Swiss dairy producers have been very motivated to reduce herd mastitis

Table 1.  Milk quality control and payment in Switzerland.

BTSCC > 350,000

% reduction in milk price

1 month in 5

No reduction

2 months in 5


3 months in 5


4 months in 5


5 months in 5

30% and milk is banned

levels and/or divert high cell count milk from the bulk tank.  This strategy has had a very dramatic impact.  In 1980, the Swiss national BTSCC average was 171,000 and by 1992 it had decreased to slightly over 100,000 and has remained there since.  In 1975, the percent of BTSCC tests greater than 350,000 was 17.5% but by 1989 it decreased to 4%, where it has stabilized since that time.  Today in Switzerland, 17% of dairy cows are sub-clinically infected compared with 31.2% of cows in Minnesota.

How can we improve SCC in Minnesota? The answer is the same way the Swiss have, albeit we must be more self-motivated -- by consistently applying the very well-known best management practices that have been proven time and again to result in low SCC high quality milk.  The following management practices are as valid today as they ever were:

Notice the emphasis on the word consistent(ly).  Quality milk depends on applying good management practices every day.  In our opinion, the most important milk quality practices that need improvement in Minnesota are to improve cow cleanliness and pre-milking cow prep procedures.

At the 2007 Minnesota Dairy Days currently underway around the state, one of the topics is "100,000 SCC in Minnesota: Why Not?"  Information is being presented on how Minnesota's top milk quality dairies already achieve low SCC.  Surveys were mailed to 104 top milk quality DHI producers and these results are being shared at the Dairy Days program. 

To learn more about producing high quality milk, see the many fact sheets on the Dairy Extension website at (click on "Quality Count$")

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