100,000 the new 200,000!

It is time to set your sights higher when it comes to milk quality, and produce milk with a lower SCC.

Phil Durst
MSU Extension Senior Educator
Dairy & Beef Cattle Health

durst-2-300Milk quality has been improving with decreasing trends in somatic cell counts (SCC) as an indication of improved udder health. In fact, US average SCC has declined from 322,000 in 2001 to 228,000 ten years later. For years, many dairy producers have had a goal of producing milk with a SCC under 200,000. I submit that it is time to set a new goal, a goal that every herd owner should aspire to, 100,000 SCC.

Somatic cells are the white blood cells that the animal produces usually in response to an infection. As such, it is an indirect measure of the presence or absence of infection within the mammary gland. The bulk tank SCC measures the total number of infected quarters that were milked into the tank.

As producers do a better job of preventing new infections and getting cows over infections, SCC should drop, resulting in higher quality milk for consumers.

NorthStar Cooperative DHI, based in Lansing MI, reports the herds under 100,000 SCC in their annual report. Ten years ago, in 2002, they reported 16 herds out of 1274, or 1.3 percent, on test that achieved that level of quality. In 2010, 56 herds, or 4.3 percent, were under that quality level. I look forward to the day when the majority of herds on test achieve that level of quality.

Some may ask, “Why should be work to get SCC lower? Isn’t the milk safe at a higher SCC? Dr. Jeff Reneau, Dept. of Animal Science at the University of Minnesota said, “milk quality is different from milk safety”. The milk that is accepted on the market is safe. But we can often do better in terms of quality.

There are three reasons that I give for even higher quality. 1) We are trying to sell more milk, and quality sells. 2) The public’s mandate for dairy producers is healthier cows and lower SCC is proof of that. 3) Production and overall health and reproduction will be better in herds with lower SCC.

As producers, you support dairy promotion efforts through your checkoff dollars. We’re trying to increase the amount of dairy products that consumers purchase. But nothing speaks louder than quality. Higher SCC and/or bacteria counts in milk will develop off-flavors sooner and have a shorter shelf life than milk of very low SCC, whether stored at proper temperature or not. We want dairy products to taste good to consumers, every time they consume it and whether or not they store it correctly.

In addition, why would we tolerate a level of infection within the herd that can be reduced? Cows that are fighting infections are not going to produce milk or reproduce as well as they could.

Many of the herd owners that I work with have made a commitment to consistently produce milk with SCC under 100,000. That commitment carries through to what they do in the barn, how they handle their cows, how they feed their herd as well as what they do in the parlor. It is a commitment of care for the cows and a commitment of quality for the consumer.

Cows that are not infected will naturally have a SCC under 100,000. We want cows to be healthy and achieve optimum production. When that is the case, they are no more prone to clinical mastitis than cows with higher cell counts. We need to use the tools that are available to prevent and control mastitis.

Why is it that some herds achieve a SCC under 100,000 and many do not? Is it that they can’t because of where they farm or their facilities? Is it because of a lack of knowledge? It is because of a lack of tools? I’d like to suggest that the primary difference is a lack of commitment. Those who put a priority on milk quality will achieve it. Why don’t you make that your goal, and your commitment, this year!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *