Proactively managing milk quality by monitoring herd somatic cell count.
Maintaining udder health; a challenge that every dairy farmer faces on a regular basis. Milk somatic cell count (SCC) can be a useful indicator when it comes to monitoring udder health. There are several ways you can evaluate SCC in your herd. Bulk tank somatic cell counts (BTSCC) provide a general indication of the herd’s udder health status, while monthly milk testing can provide animal-specific data for dairy farmers. With this data, both the quality of milk and animal health can be assessed. What do these values tell you and how can you best use this data to maintain healthy udders?
Keep clean, be healthy
Monitoring SCC can be a highly effective tool to manage udder health. Many dairy farmers already follow protocols when it comes to udder health; dry-off management, special bedding, milking technique, and identification of cows with elevated SCC values. The importance of a healthy udder is well known. Bradley and Green (2004) (Figure 1) showed that 60% of visible udder health challenges within the first 100 days post-calving are due to invading bacteria that arise during dry off. Cows with a milk yield of 12.5 kg or 27.6 lbs or higher have a greater risk of new udder health challenges early in lactation. With every additional 5 kg or 11 lbs at dry-off, this risk increases significantly (Rajala-Schultz et al., 2005). New bacterial infiltrations typically arise from bacteria gaining access to the udder through the teat canal. Because the intramammary pressure is increased after dry-off, the teat canal may open and leak milk. This is an opportunity for bacteria to penetrate the teat canal and colonize the udder. This process repeats around calving. The calving pen is often a reservoir of bacteria that can potentially invade the cow’s udder.
Figure 1. A schematic illustration of the rate of new intramammary infiltrations during the lactation cycle. The peak in new infiltration rate, after drying off, is considerably higher in cows not receiving any form of dry cow therapy (Bradley and Green, 2004).
Proactive is better than reactive
Monthly milk tests are often the trigger for dairy farmers to tackle invisible udder health challenges. An increased SCC can be a potential indicator that the cow’s immune system is battling an invader. It takes only 24 to 48 hours for pathogenic bacteria to proliferate in the udder of an immune-compromised cow and begin to defend themselves against the immune system. The longer this continues, the greater the risk for development of a chronic infection. Because a proactive approach is better than a reactive one, many dairy farmers understand the importance of milk testing. How quickly and when do you react to an elevated SCC? Typically, a SCC value over 200k is an indication of an udder needing attention. An adequate proactive approach reduces the number of cows that develop long-term udder health challenges. Research by Dallago (2021) shows that udder health challenges are the second greatest reason for culling dairy cattle. By reducing sources of contamination and quickly reacting to SCC attentions from milk tests, proactive action on udder health can be taken. Acting proactively on udder health can reduce the risk of culling due to udder health challenges and high SCC. This will extend the longevity of your dairy cows, thereby helping to lower the replacement rate on your farm.
How can AHV help optimize udder health on your farm?
To support and optimize udder health on farms, AHV has developed the Udder Health Program. This approach focuses on early identification and addressing abnormalities. Here, we look at data such as milk test data and robot data. Abnormal values can be an indication of (upcoming) animal health challenges. At AHV, we distinguish different udder health categories that base their recommendations on your animal’s health condition and history. Would you like to know which category we recommend for your cow? Our Farm Advisors will be happy to discuss this with you and provide advice free of charge based on your farm’s specific data to promote animal health, minimize permanent udder damage, and reduce the costs associated with udder health challenges.
- Bradley, A. J., & Green, M. J. (2004). The importance of the nonlactating period in the epidemiology of intramammary infection and strategies for prevention. Veterinary Clinics: Food Animal Practice, 20(3), 547-568.
- Rajala-Schultz, P. J., Hogan, J. S., & Smith, K. L. (2005). Association between milk yield at dry-off and probability of intramammary infections at calving. Journal of Dairy Science, 88(2), 577-579.
- Boer, M., Zijlstra, J., Buiting, J., Colombijn-van der Wende, K., & Andringa, E. A. (2013). Routekaart Levensduur; eindrapport van het project” Verlenging levensduur melkvee” (No. 668). Wageningen UR Livestock Research.
Get in touch!
Would you like to be visited by an advisor to discuss the health challenges on your farm together? Our AHV Farm Advisor will be happy to visit you to jointly assess the health of your cows and come up with appropriate cow-specific advice.
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