Improve Milk Profits by Keeping Somatic Cell Counts Down

May 20, 2020

Tara Jo Bina
Countryside Feed Livestock Nutrition
Although somatic cells play a vital role in helping a cow fight infection, they can also erode your milk profits if counts are too high. Therefore it’s important to focus on good management practices to keep infections at bay in the first place.
What are Somatic Cells?
In addition to reducing the quantity of milk a cow produces, mastitis infections lead to an increase in somatic cells, which are mainly white blood cells that the cow’s immune system sends to the utter to help battle the illness. These cells contain enzymes that break down milk fat and protein, and alter the taste of milk – all of which can reduce the quality of dairy products. As a result, most milk purchasers will pay a premium for milk with low somatic cell counts (SCC) in the neighborhood of 150,000, and dock the payout when the SCC is high – around 400,000.
Ways to Manage SCC
Because of heat and humidity, mastitis and the high SCC that comes with it is a problem local milk producers deal with every year. Fortunately there are several ways to prevent infection without breaking the bank, which is especially important when milk prices are down. Here are a few of my top suggestions:
  1. Keep cows dry and comfortable at all times to reduce environmental infections. Keeping utters clean and utter hairs short can prevent mud and manure from sticking, and maintaining clean teats helps prevent bacteria from entering the teat end. If bedding on sand, clean it up at least once a week, but remove waste daily. If you use straw or sawdust, provide fresh bedding in the back half of the stall daily and replace all of the bedding weekly. Block off muddy areas in pastures and keep cows out of the gutter in free-standing barns so they don’t sit in waste. Run fans to improve air circulation and keep your herd cool in the hot summer months.
  1. Work with your local veterinarian to identify high SCC cows. Perform Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) testing once a month and include forestripping during cow preparation to identify the cows with high SCC. Feeding their milk to calves will keep it out of the milk supply and improve your SCC. Isolate those with contagious infections to prevent them from spreading it to the rest of your herd. Either treat or cull the infected cows, depending on how often each becomes infected.
  1. Ensure milking equipment is working properly. Have equipment cleaned and inspected regularly to ensure that bacteria aren’t being passed throughout your herd. If any parts are recommended for replacement on a regular basis, be sure to do that.
  1. Control flies. Include a quality additive in your herd’s feed source to keep flies from hatching in manure. We carry industry-leading ClariFly® Larvicide at Countryside Feed.
  1. Use quality teat dips and achieve adequate coverage. Thoroughly cleaning teats before and after milking will help prevent exposure to and transmittal of bacteria. Use a dry cow intramammary tube to treat the quarters of all cows at dry off, and also use a dry cow teat sealer.
  1. Provide chelated trace minerals to strengthen your cows’ immune systems. Supplementing your nutrition program with trace minerals like zinc can reduce the frequency and severity of mastitis in cows, reduce SCC, and help your cows produce high-quality milk. We offer a number of premium quality mineral formulations from Zinpro Performance Minerals® at Countryside Feed, including Availa®4 and ZINPRO® zinc methionine – both of which help enhance immunity and reduce SCC. Call your local Countryside Feed nutritionist for assistance in selecting the right product for your herd.

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