Dairy farmers: Take the somatic cell count challenge
ST. PAUL -- Beginning in early 2011, the European Union (EU) will require that all imported dairy products come from dairy farms producing milk under a 400,000 somatic cells count (SCC) per milliliter of milk. Somatic cells in high concentrations are indications of mastitis, or inflammation of the cow's udder, which affects cow health and milk quality.
Since most Upper Midwestern milk processors directly or indirectly export milk products to the EU, almost all dairies in Minnesota will have to comply with the 400,000 SCC standards to market their milk. Details on exactly when this will begin, how the monthly SCC number will be calculated, and how a non-compliant dairy will regain market access have not yet been decided.
Analysis of the 2009 Upper Midwest Federal Milk Marketing Order shows the bulk-tank SCC (BTSCC) milk shipment average for the U.S. was 227,000 and for Minnesota 249,000. Approximately 73 percent of all milk shipments in the Upper Midwest were under the 400,000 SCC level.
If you already meet the new 400,000 SCC requirement, keep up the good work. If you are one of the approximately 25 percent of dairies that has trouble keeping BTSCC under 400,000, now is time to get busy.
Where to begin?
The first question to ask yourself is: "Are we doing the right things?" Go to the University of Minnesota Milk Quality/SCC Toolbox at www.extension.umn.edu/go/1043 and take the Milk Quality Self-assessment Test. This interactive tool can also be accessed through University of Minnesota Extension's dairy website at www.extension.umn.edu/Dairy. It will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your current milk quality management program.
The next question is: "Are we doing the right things at every milking?" Consistency is the key to BTSCC improvement. Check your BTSCC consistency by inputting your last 20 bulk tank SCC tests in the Excel worksheet titled "Monitoring BTSCC," also found in the Milk Quality/ SCC Toolbox. This worksheet estimates your herd's probability of a BTSCC greater than 400,000 during the next 30 days.
Now use your dairy records to help define your SCC problem. Dairy Herd Improvements Association (DHI) and/or other dairy records and individual cow SCC testing are critical for identifying which cows have high SCC and when these infections occurred. Find "New, DHI Mastitis/SCC Reports" on Extension's dairy site at www.extension.umn.edu/Dairy.
Collect bulk tank milk samples for bacterial culturing. Accurately identifying the bacterial causes of your herd's mastitis infections assures implementation of the most effective milk quality improvement strategies. See the fact sheet "BT Culture Problem Solving" in the Milk Quality/SCC Toolbox at www.extension.umn.edu/go/1043.
With this basic information in hand you are ready to tackle the 400,000 SCC challenge. Lowering SCC is a win for the cow, your farm and processors. It's worth the effort to improve cow health and well-being, boosting milk productivity and farm and processor profitability. With a more stable, wholesome and better tasting dairy product, the consumer wins too.
Jeff Reneau is a dairy specialist with University of Minnesota Extension.