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Milking Center Management: The SCC Sleuth

September 23, 2010
By: Mark Wustenberg, Dairy Today Contributor

Bonus Content

More on lowering SCCs:

The Value and Use of Dairy Herd Improvement Somatic Cell Count

Somatic Cell Counts: a Primer

*Extened comments are highlighted in blue

The current discussion regarding lowering the legal somatic cell count (SCC) limit to 400,000 cells/ml has, if nothing else, stimulated more questions from producers about why their counts are higher than they would like.

Recently I received a call from a producer whose bulk tank SCC (BTSCC) typically runs solidly below 200,000. But over the last few months, it has slowly crept up to just under 300,000. During this time, there was little change in the number of clinical mastitis cases being treated. Routine monthly bulk tank bacterial screens showed traces of Staph. aureus, low levels of other Staph. species, low levels of coliforms and moderate levels of environmental Streps. This was fairly typical for what this producer saw historically.

His local veterinarian and milking machine dealer had reviewed the parlor procedures and milking machine function and they appeared to be in control as well. Freestall management had been reviewed and it was concluded that there had been no significant changes. They were at a bit of a loss as to where to look next.

When analyzing BTSCC problems, there are some guidelines that, while not set in stone, will generally point you in the right direction. First, the BTSCC is a reflection of the number of cows in your herd with subclinical infections. These are infected quarters that, by definition, have what appears to be normal milk but elevated SCC.

Second, many of the mastitis-causing organisms we deal with are related more to subclinical infections than to clinical infections. In other words, if your BTSCC has gone up, chances are you have somehow created an increase in individual cows with high counts even if there is not an increase in clinical cases.

To get a quick idea of which cows are contributing to an elevated BTSCC, you need to have individual SCC counts. I use 200,000 cells/ml as a cutoff when analyzing individual cow patterns. If they are above 200,000 cells/ml, I assume they have a subclinical infection. If they are below 200,000 cells/ml, I assume they are uninfected.

Using this guideline, I look at each cow’s record and compare each month’s SCC to the previous month. I then group them into three buckets:

  • Cows that have counts above 200,000 cells/ml for both months. These are considered chronically infected cows.
  • Cows that are high in the current month but were low the month before. These are the new infections.
  • Cows that have high counts on their first test after freshening. These are cows that probably freshened with a problem.

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FEATURED IN: Dairy Today - October 2010
RELATED TOPICS: Milk, Follow the Dot

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