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Panel shares how they hurdled under 100,000 SCC

Ashley Messing-Kennedy Published on 10 June 2013
At the 2013 Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference in Frankenmuth, Michigan, Dr. Roger Thomson from Team Management Concepts and Dr. Ron Erskine from Michigan State University hosted a talk titled “Treat Them or Eat Them: Prevention and Treatment Critical to Milk Quality and Animal Health.” (Editor’s note: Click here to see a related article from the Thomson/Erskine team in May 21st issue.)

The feature of the talk was a producer panel. The panel featured three producers doing exceptional jobs of milk quality on their operations.

The first of the three panelists was Dave Schroder from Cary Dairy in Battle Creek, Michigan. At Cary Dairy, they milk 795 cows with a rolling herd average of 30,550 pounds with a 3.6 percent butterfat, a 3.02 percent protein and a 92,000 somatic cell count average.



The farm holds bi-monthly milker meetings and regular milker training seminars.


The farm believes in proper and consistent milk prep and procedure in order to ensure high-quality milk.

The second panelist was Steven VanderHoff from Bebow Dairy in St. Louis, Michigan. Bebow Dairy has 1,100 cows with 200 dry cows and 950 head of youngstock.

The farm uses the Afi Farm Management program for heat detection, milk production monitoring and conductivity for mastitis.


The rolling herd average is 27,100 pounds of milk with a 3.52 percent butterfat and 3.04 percent protein. The farm had a three-month somatic cell count average of 80,000.

Tom Oesch, Jr. from Swisslane Dairy in Alto, Michigan, was the third panelist. The farm consists of 2,000 cows over two farm sites. The first site is a conventional parlor dairy, and the second site is a 500-cow robotic dairy.

The rolling herd average is 28,198 pounds of milk for both farms, and the farm has a somatic cell count average of about 100,000.

One of the first questions asked of the panel was whether Oesch sees a milk quality difference between the robot facility and the conventional farm milked in a parlor.

He said the somatic cell counts are almost identical between the two farms. He also said that spikes in cell count and clinical mastitis cases seem to happen at the same time on both farms.

The panel was asked what are their key components for maintaining low somatic cell count milk. VanderHoff said the design and good maintenance of their new freestall barns is the key to Bebow Dairy’s success.


The barns are appropriately sized for all ages of cows, and the location of brisket boards follows the University of Wisconsin freestall size standards. The farm is also strict on regular, scheduled maintenance of milking equipment.

Oesch gave the credit to the farm’s freestall cleanliness and maintaining freestall beds. The farm and their employees work hard to keep freestall beds clean and well stocked with sand.

Oesch also said the farm’s quarterly employee meetings and the employee quality bonus has allowed them to break below the 100,000 somatic cell count mark.

They also found managing cows for their transition period helps to keep new mastitis cases to a minimum. Oesch talked about what a challenge it was to break the 100,000 somatic cell count mark.

To get to that point, he said they have cultured a lot of cows and that they “target the [highest] somatic cell count cows in the herd and manage them accordingly or cull some cows.”

Schroeder of Cary Dairy had three key areas of the farm that have made the biggest impact on their milk quality. The foremost is in the parlor. The farm works hard to make sure milkers know what they are doing; they train them often and make sure they take pride in their work.

Second, the farm moves high somatic cell count cows to the treatment parlor to get them out of the tank. The third place is the cow environment. The farm works hard to use only high-quality sand in their freestalls and keeps the freestalls very clean.

Thomson reminded those in attendance that, in order to get under the 200,000 somatic cell count range, a parlor procedure has to be used and correct. To get under the 100,000 somatic cell count level is the biggest challenge and will take the most work. The panelist members agreed this was a huge hurdle to overcome.

The farm managers were then asked how they monitor the farm’s somatic cell count and mastitis on a daily basis. Cary Dairy uses their daily Michigan Milk Producers Association sample results to monitor their somatic cell count.

The results are recorded on a clipboard daily where employees can look and see how they are doing. Employees identify clinical mastitis cows on a board in the parlor and then move those cows into the treated pen.

Oesch said the management team makes sure pre-stripping is occurring, and employees are checking the milk quality during that time.

“We continually re-train employees and talk about it [milking procedure] at every meeting,” he said. “Daily, we want to know how many mastitis cases are on the dairy.”

On the robot dairy, they closely monitor cows with the udder health report and manage the high-conductivity cows. They actively manage and watch the environment to stay proactive on cleanliness for both dairies.

On Bebow Dairy, they use their bi-monthly DHI report and watch the cows that come up as high somatic cell score.

VanderHoff said, “We are willing to cull high somatic cell count cows if it needs to be done. By looking at the Hot Sheet for the cows constantly high [somatic cell count]; she might only be milking 70 pounds, but she robs you of your somatic cell count.”

The Bebow Dairy management team also use the Afi-System to find high-conductivity cows. Scott, the dairy’s herdsman, shakes the hand and gives a pat on the back to the person in the parlor that pulls a clinical mastitis cow. Scott’s goal is to make sure the workers know he appreciates the job they are doing.

A question asked of Thomson through Twitter while live at the conference wondered if the farm managers were comfortable in the effectiveness of the teat ends being wiped as a part of the prep procedure.

All of the managers agreed that this would probably be a place for improvement on their farms. Each of them said they did not have that as part of their milk prep procedure but felt this could be an important addition.

One of the common threads to all the farm successes is that milk quality is a team activity.

Erskine reflected, “In one facet or another, employee participation or awareness is a part of the approach.”

All of the panel farms work hard to make sure their employees are aware of the somatic cell counts on a regular basis. Cary Dairy and Oesch Dairy both have somatic cell count bonuses.

Each of the farm managers also talked about how constant employee retraining is very key to their program. Without vigilance and consistency from farm management, producing high-quality milk would not be possible, all agreed. PD

Ashley Messing-Kennedy is a dairy farmer and freelancer based in Bad Axe, Michigan.

Panel from left to right: Steven VanderHoff, Tom Oesch, Dave Schroder and Dr. Roger Thomson, Team Management Concepts, Facilitator


Ashley Messing-Kennedy
Dairy Farmer
Bad Axe, Michigan