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How to systematically lower your somatic cell count

Jim Salfer Published on 09 October 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. High somatic cell count (SCC) milk also decreases cheese yield and reduces fluid milk shelf life.

The best way to reduce SCC is by focusing on prevention. If your SCC is higher than desired, one way to tackle the problem is to consider forming a milk quality team. Include key employees, veterinarian, dairy plant field representative, dairy equipment personnel, extension personnel, etc. 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.

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Here are the steps to follow for improving milk quality:

1. 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.

2. 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. 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. A Mycoplasma test must be requested when running bulk tank cultures because it requires special medium and a longer incubation time to detect.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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5. Develop a plan to monitor progress.
One of the most important components of any plan is to set up monitors to measure success. Possible monitors include: bulk tank SCC graph for each pickup; new infections on DHIA reports; regular bulk tank cultures; individual cow DHI SCC; and California Mastitis Test (CMT) on all fresh cows.

6. 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.

7. Celebrate 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. PD

Excerpts from June 2010 University of Minnesota Dairy Connection

Jim Salfer
  • Jim Salfer

  • Extension Educator
  • University of Minnesota
  • Email Jim Salfer

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