How to Systematically Lower Your Somatic Cell Count
Published in Dairy Star June 04, 2010
Mastitis continues to be the most costly disease on dairy farms. It decreases profit as a result of decreased milk yields, treatment costs, discarded milk, premature culling and death, decreased genetic potential, and decreased reproductive performance. Producers have an obligation to provide the highest quality dairy products for consumers. High somatic cell count (SCC) milk also decreases cheese yield and reduces fluid milk shelf life.
Trying to reduce SCC through treatment and culling strategies is frustrating and often futile. The best way to reduce SCC is by focusing on prevention. Often producers don't know where to start. They try switching teat dips, inflations, and treatments or add new feed additives without success.
If your SCC is higher than desired, one way to tackle the problem is to consider forming a milk quality team. Include your key employees, veterinarian, dairy plant field representative, dairy equipment personnel, Extension personnel, and others you think might be helpful. Work with them to develop a systematic game plan for reducing your SCC based on your farm's information. Mastitis is a disease that is well understood and often an aggressive plan of attack will get it under control. And fortunately, the University of Minnesota has great resources to assist producers with improving milk quality. A website with excellent information is the Quality Counts web site at http://qualitycounts.umn.edu/index.htm.
A general flow chart for improving milk quality is shown in Figure 1. It can help you identify the problem, find the cause, and get it under control. Here are the steps to follow:
- Define the problem.
Use DHIA records, bulk tank cultures, and individual cow cultures to identify the problem. With these records, you can identify which cows are infected and when they are getting infected. DHIA has an excellent template explaining the herd summary milk quality sections with goals. This is posted on the University of Minnesota Dairy Extension website at http://www.extension.umn.edu/dairy/Publications/dhi_mastitis_reports.pdf.
- Identify the organism.
It is important to identify the major organism causing the elevated SCC. A great low cost screening test is using routine bulk tank cultures. On most farms, the culprit will be environmental organisms. If the problem is contagious and the organism is Strep Ag or Mycoplasma, the goal should be eradication. Unless you have a closed herd, you should routinely test for Mycoplasma. This organism has been a problem on the West Coast for years, but is a growing problem in larger freestall farms in the Midwest. A Mycoplasma test must be requested when running bulk tank cultures because it requires special medium and a longer incubation time to detect.
- Generate possible solutions.
Based on the investigation above, work with your milk quality team to generate solutions. If several organisms are responsible, a multiple pronged approach might be needed. This is a great time to also get input from all your employees and family members. By being part of developing the solutions, they are more likely to buy into implementing the action plan.
- Develop an action plan.
Work with your team to develop a specific action plan. If the problem is environmental organisms, part of the solution will likely lead to changes in milking routine and barn management. All actions in the plan should be written down with a person identified as responsible for implementation. If a change in routine is required, a training program should be initiated. Once again, if employees are involved, they are more likely to follow through with implementation.
- Develop a plan to monitor progress.
One of the most important components of any plan is to set up monitors to measure success. The use of multiple monitors is often the best since no monitor is perfect. The Quality Counts website listed above contains a few excellent monitoring tools under the 'Spreadsheet' section. Possible monitors include:
- Bulk tank SCC graph for each pick up
- New infections on DHIA reports
- Regular bulk tank cultures
- Individual cow DHI SCC
- California Mastitis Test (CMT) on all fresh cows
- Adjust plan as needed.
Review successes and adjust the plan to make continuous progress toward your goal. It is important to continue with monitoring and training.
- Celebrate accomplishments.
Often times in agriculture, we forget to celebrate our accomplishments. Set incremental goals along the way and have a small celebration for everyone involved that has helped you reach your goal. This can give people a sense of accomplishment and keep them motivated to reach the next plateau.
Lowering your SCC will increase your profit through higher milk volume and a higher milk price through greater milk quality premiums. Now is the time to form a milk quality team and make an extra effort to lower you SCC.