Dairy Excel: Somatic cell count: How low can it go?

Yvette Schukhen, from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., presented a paper on Best Management Practices to Lower Herd Somatic Cell Count during the National Mastitis Council Regional Meeting, which I attended in Syracuse, N.Y.

With the announcement that Agricultural Research Service scientists have filed a patent application on a cloned gene that promises to treat or prevent bacterial infections that cause mastitis in dairy cows, the future of mastitis may well change, but the basic management steps Schukhen suggested make far more sense than just lowering somatic cell count.

Cow characteristics from herds with less than 150,000 bulk milk somatic cell count when compared to cows from higher counts are listed below.

Characteristics. Herds with bulk milk somatic cell count less than 150,000 had the following characteristics:

* cows that were cleaner and drinking cups were cleaner.

* were more likely to remove udder hair.

* had cleaner free stalls and cleaned the free stall more frequently each day.

* used more bedding.

* dry cows were more often checked daily for evidence of clinical mastitis.

* had cleaner calving pens as rated by a standardized hygiene scoring system.

* kept milk from fresh cows out of the bulk tank longer.

* were more consistent in the use of post milking teat dipping and had utilized the practice longer than other herds.

* were more consistent in dry cow treating all cows and had been using the practice longer than other herds.

* clinical cases were treated for a longer duration and were more apt to provide nutrient supplementation for springing heifers, dry and lactating cows.

These differences in management detail make the difference. Certainly, management attitude was the difference.

Bottom line. The bottom line reflecting differences in management attitude are captured in the following questions: Are you just milking cows or are you producing quality milk? Are you just dipping teats or are you using a dip cup to completely immerse teats?

There is an attitude difference and the resulting behavior is reflected in bulk milk somatic cell count.

Whether high quality milk is produced depends on whether milk quality management practices are consistently and accurately implemented. The idea that attitude is a determining factor in success is nothing new to any of us.

What is your “management attitude”?

Clear and accurate farms were more likely to use records daily; rarely forgot to take milk samples for culture on the clinical cases; enjoyed milking more; were more likely to believe it is important to work hygienically with clean hands and boots; less likely to start milking later than planned; and kept milking parlor and bulk tank room cleaner as determined by a standardized hygiene scoring system.

How does your “management attitude” compare?

Taking advice? While driving north on Paris Avenue in Stark County after a farm visit in Paris, I noticed a whole herd of dairy cows under the only shade tree in the pasture. Amazing how closely bundled they were!

My mind went back to this spring and a couple of farm visits in which we recommended tearing off the ridge cap of the dairy barn, putting in fans over the feed bunks and the free stalls, and maybe even considering a water mist for cooling.

I will bet the July bulk tank reading would have been higher if the dairyman followed our recommendations.

Meeting update. Speaking of heat! Bonnie Kowalke from Monsanto Dairy Business is conducting a heat abatement meeting on Aug. 27 at Essick Dairy Farm in Minerva, Ohio.

Mark Armfelt will be discussing Cool Cows Make More Milk and conducting a walking tour of the facilities. The meeting starts at 9:45 a.m. and should last about 2-2 1/2 hours.

Essick Dairy Farm is located on Essick Road. Go east on Route 172 from the Route 183 and Route 172 intersection for about 5 miles; turn right on Essick Road. The farm is on your left.

(The author is an agricultural extension agent in Stark and Summit counties. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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