I hate culling cows! Part of the problem is looking an animal in the eye and saying, "You’ve got to go!"
The other part of the problem is making good decisions. There are so many variables involved in culling cows that it’s hard to know which ones are right.
All culling questions are financial. Is this cow excreting more than she’s eating? Will she ever recoup the cost of treatment? Is she worth drying early? The answers to these questions can be hard to find. But none are more difficult than, "Should I sell this 100-lb.-per-day, 3-year-old cow with chronically high SCC?"
Everyone knows that high somatic cell counts (SCCs) cost money. Loss of premiums, loss of milk and the cost of treatments chip away at your profit. But how do we find out just how much it costs?
One method is to use the University of Kentucky’s Milk Quality Economic Opportunity Dashboard. This web-based calculator shows you how much more income you would get if you lowered your bulk tank SCC count. I recently punched in my numbers to see if there would be a benefit in dropping my current average of 155 SCC to below 125.
The web app first asks for your SCC premium. In my case, if I dropped below 125 SCC, I would get an extra 7¢ per cwt. Next, I entered my expected milk price for the next year, number of cows, average milk per cow, current SCC and goal SCC.
The calculator displayed the results in a gauge-like interface. In my example, the benefit of lowering my SCC to the next bonus tier would be $63,000 per year. Hey, that’s just about enough to buy a new Tesla. I wonder if Tesla’s Elon Musk is thinking about four-wheel-drives?
Maybe a more practical use of the money would be to invest in some technology to help lower the SCC count.
One way to spend it would be to drop two grand on the new Dairy Quality Device by Dairy Quality Inc. This little black box connects with an iPhone 5 to give you instant SCC counts on the farm. You just draw a sample of milk into the Dairy Quality Cassette, stick the cassette into the little black box and bam—SCC counts.
The included Mpengo iPhone app displays the numeric results and an image of the sample. You can also export the data to your dairy management program. (Note: I haven’t used this device, so I strongly advise you to do your homework before purchasing.)
Lowering your SCC starts in the parlor. With the iPrep app from ParlorPro, you can ensure strict adherence to your milking protocols. The app lets you time your milkers through the process of strip, dip, wipe, attach and off. This data will help you determine if the cows have adequate time for milk let-down and if the predip has had enough time to kill bacteria.
I still hate selling good cows because of high SCC, but not as much as I like the new Tesla!
Benefits of Google Drive
One way to help lower your SCC is to know which pathogens are causing the infections. We routinely send milk samples from mastitis cows to our vet's milk lab for testing. We check for all environmental bacteria and Myco.
The lab technicians enter the results of the test into a Google Drive spreadsheet that we share. This allows us to select mastitis tubes that are effective against the most predominant pathogens.
Google Drive eliminates the need for faxing and double data entry, and both my vet and I have access to the information for analysis.
Dino Giacomazzi is the fourth generation to manage his family’s dairy farm near Hanford, Calif. Contact him at email@example.com.