Getting below 400,000 SCC is one thing; staying there is quite another.
Milk procurement managers from both national and regional co-ops tell me the 400,000 somatic cell count (SCC) Aug. 1 deadline isn’t going to be a big deal.
Every one of them makes these points:
- Most have "few" herds above that level, though one co-op did admit about 10% of its membership is above that threshold. The vast majority of these herds are small, so they represent less than 5% of milk volume. And most of the herds are in the 400,000 to 500,000 cells/ml range. (See "The Countdown to 400,000")
- It won’t "take a lot" to get these herds into compliance. Because they tend to be smaller herds, simply culling a few high-count, chronically infected cows will bring them into compliance.
- The way the rules are written, farmers will have four months to come into compliance.
I hope they’re right. But my gut tells me this is going to be a bigger ongoing issue than some suspect.
Yes, the rules are liberal. As I understand them, January, February and March of 2012 are being used to establish a farm’s rolling three-month SCC average. If the three-month average is above 400,000 cells/ml, the farm’s milk buyer must report that fact to USDA in April. To be out of compliance, and thus ineligible to sell milk for export, a farm’s rolling three-month average must remain above 400,000 cells/ml for the month of notification, April, and three more consecutive months—May, June and July.
There are a couple of other points to keep in mind, however. Getting below 400,000 cells/ml is one thing; staying there is quite another.
According to an analysis of 1,500 Upper Midwest bulk-tank SCC records over three years, herds that consistently exceed 300,000 cells/ml have a 50% or higher probability of exceeding 400,000 at least once each month. (See "Consistent Control")
In order to lower the probability of exceeding 400,000 to below 25%, bulk-tank SCCs should be below 200,000, and variation between pick-ups can be no more than 75,000.
Driving cell counts below 200,000 is doable, but it takes far more than culling a few chronic cows. It took the University of Florida’s 520-cow herd more than a year to drop its cell count from 559,000 to 351,000—and it took culling 90 cows (17%) to do it. It took another three years of diligence and attitude adjustment to get the cell count down to 185,000. (See "Not So Fast—or Easy," page 13.)
Yes, I understand that the way the rules are written, herds will essentially have to get their rolling three-month SCC average below 400,000 just once every four or five months. But if that’s their standard—just to stay legal—they will be in a constant battle to keep on the right side of the law. If producers don’t get tired of this, their fieldmen certainly will.
It might not be a big deal the first time around. But after a few years of this whack-a-mole, cat-and-mouse game, it will be.