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Secrets of Dairies with Consistently Low Somatic Cell Counts

Posted: February 6, 2005

The January 10, 2006 issue of the Hoard’s Dairyman contained a short article about the National Dairy Quality Award winners.

The six families who were the Platinum winners participated in a roundtable discussion describing how they maintained high milk quality. While all the farms in this category were outstanding a PA farm was truly outstanding. Merrymead Farm managed by the Rothenberger family from Montgomery Co. was one of last year’s winners. This PA farm had the distinction of owning the lowest DHI SCC average (39,500) as well as the highest RHA (28,303 lbs/yr.) of all the Platinum winners.

Average SCC for the year for all the herds was outstanding. The six farms averages for SCC for the year were: 86, 000, 82,750, 81,000, 55,000, 53,000, and 39,500. Standard plate count averages were also extremely low indicating that the milk was very clean and of high quality. Although all the herds had many differences in their management a few secrets of their success seemed to be common in all herds.

  1. All had very strict udder prep protocols that were understood and followed by everyone. All predipped and fore stripped the cows prior to unit attachment. All but one farm had written protocols, even the farm with just two milkers. Those milking weren’t just 1 person all the time or the owners. One farm had 10 different employees milking, another 17, and another 9 (7 employees along with 2 family members).
  2. Barn environment was carefully maintained to keep cows clean and comfortable. Stalls were manicured 2-3 times per day. All sorts of beddings were used but the key seemed to be animal hygiene and comfort.
  3. Teat end health was important and monitored. Equipment was serviced regularly and maintained in good working order. Unit attachment and detachment were supervised closely. Units were not put on cows before they were ready and units were removed as soon as the cow was finished milking.
  4. All Platinum Winners employed similar methods to find mastitis early in the infectious process. The all used CMT paddles, DHI SCC reports, attention to the cow and udder at prep, and careful observation of fore stripped milk to detect mastitis.
  5. All of these dairies screened cows carefully as they entered the milking string. They used strip cups, CMT, DHI data, and cultures as needed to identify potential problems prior to fresh cows and heifers entered the milking string. All cases of mastitis in early fresh cows were treated appropriately but aggressively as directed by their dairy team and veterinarian.

In the final analysis did these Platinum Winners really have the secrets to high quality milk? No doubt every dairy owner or worker has at some time heard these same secrets before in one way or another. Obtaining high quality milk is really no secret. It is doing the little things right every day with every cow. Animal comfort and hygiene, attention to detail in the parlor, and finding infections and appropriately treating them quickly could help every dairy produce higher quality milk. Less mastitis makes lots of economic sense as well. Reduced cost from therapeutics, lost milk, reduced mastitis culls, and milk premiums are all potentially high profit items for the dairy owner. Fewer infections and better animal comfort make us better stewards of the animals under our care.

Producing products of the highest quality while using therapeutics in the most judicious manner creates products that consumers desire. Employing the secrets of the Platinum Winners would help all aspects of the dairy industry.

David Wolfgang, Extension Veterinarian, Penn State University