Face the facts and take steps to stop SCC becoming a costly problem
Too many farmers ignore an issue that can lead to decreased milk yield, reducing annual profits by €90 per cow
No matter what type of cow you milk, what your calving pattern is or even what part of the country you are in, one thing is common to all herds: Somatic Cell Count (SCC) and the mastitis cases that accompany it.
At this time of year, SCC tends to stay under the radar. Silage, breeding, fencing and reseeding are all much higher up the ‘to-do’ list than even thinking about SCC.
The more farmers I chat to about SCC, the more I realise that there isn’t really a common figure that everyone is happy with: one farmer could be disappointed if the herd SCC goes over 70,000, whereas another might be content with any figure less than 200,000.
I’m also starting to realise that a lot of farmers can find an excuse for a rise in SCC: “Sure it’s always high in February” or “It creeps up at the back end of the year regardless”.
So, regardless of the figure, if you are happy with your SCC, is it really a problem?
The reality of the situation regarding SCC is, if it’s not hitting you directly in your pocket, then it’s very hard to be convinced that it’s an issue.
Most co-ops will flag increasing SCC but fines don’t really come into play until bulk-tank SCC goes above at least 300,000, and even then, it will have to stay there for a long time before any dramatic sanction is enforced.
Usually in a herd, if high SCC is flagged, the offending ‘millionaire’ is found and taken out of the tank (there are probably a few late calves to be fed) and the problem goes away.
However, there are hidden costs of high SCC that may not have a direct visible effect, but can still cause a dramatic reduction in profit.
SCC causes not only a decrease in milk yield, but also a decrease in milk quality. Studies have shown that yearly net profit is reduced by €90 per cow in a herd with an SCC between 200,000 and 300,000. If the herd SCC is over 400,000, the reduction is €190 per cow.
These figures should be enough to make everyone begin to take SCC very seriously.
The first step, as with most problems in life, is to recognise that there is a problem. If your cell count is above 150,000, then it needs to be addressed.
There is no silver bullet for SCC. If a magic potion was able to cure it, every herd would be under 100,000 all year round. But the problem can be solved
We are all familiar with the fivepoint plan for mastitis control, which has been around since the ’60s. and is fundamentally still sound, but needs adapting and adding to for today’s herd:
1. Treat and record all cases of mastitis. 2. Post-milking teat disinfection. 3. Dry cow therapy for all cows. 4. Cull chronic cases. 5. Regular milking machine maintenance.
Point 1 is the pillar of all disease control: without records, we are running around in the dark.
With regard to post-milking teat dipping/spraying, it is not enough to just say that we should be doing it.
We need to use the correct product (one with a fly repellent and an emollient) and we need to use the correct amount, covering all four teats equally.
Dry cow therapy for all cows will soon be a thing of the past. We need samples from affected cows to be analysed to determine the bacteria involved and which antibiotic will work best. Regular milk recording is a must.
Culling chronic cases can be the most difficult hurdle.
“My best cow just scanned in calf for February but her cell count is 3 million.”
Firstly, unfortunately she’s not your best cow. She could actually be your worst cow because, if you aren’t cluster-flushing or dipping, she
There are hidden costs of high SCC that may not have a direct visible effect, but can still cause a dramatic reduction in dairy herd performance and profits. could be infecting cows opposite her at every milking.
If you are that fond of her, take a sample from all four quarters. If only one is high, she might survive as a three-spin cow. If not, the chances of her curing, even with aggressive antibiotic treatment, are slim to none.
Regular milking machine maintenance should not just involve getting the machine serviced in January of every year. Liners should be changed every 2,000 milkings. In a 120-cow herd in a 14-unit parlour, this is just shy of every four months.
Even with all these areas addressed, the problem may still persist.
Vaccination has recently come to the fore as a useful tool to work alongside all the other solutions.
The difficulty in solving an SCC issue is what makes most farmers ignore it.
Maybe it’s time to take to take your head out of the sand, sit down with your vet and get stuck into solving what is definitely a costly problem.
The first step, as with most problems in life, is to recognise that there is a problem. If your cell count is above 150,000, then it needs to be addressed
Eamon O’Connell is a vet with the Summerhill Veterinary Clinic, Nenagh, Co Tipperary