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The Moo News

Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care                                              September 2000

Increased somatic cell counts (SCC) are the topic of this month’s newsletter. Many of you have called regarding your concerns of increased bulk tank counts and how to address the problem before being shut off by your milk company.

            What exactly is meant by “somatic cell count”? This is the amount of white blood cells being secreted with the milk from the mammary gland. These cells are part of the cow’s immune system and reflect the cow’s natural attempts to fight off infection in the udder. So, in a sense, “somatic” or white blood cells are good, but having too many of them reduce milk quality and quantity.

            What causes the infection? Usually bacteria of different types find their way into the udder, and depending on the environment in the udder, they take up residence and create problems. Typical bacteria we find are staph, strep or coliform.

            How does the bacteria ever get into the udder? Generally at milking times through improper teat preparation, improper milking technique, improper milking machine function and from the last cow milked to the next one. Also, leaky teats.

            Generally a farm that consistently has a bulk tank count every month of 400,000-600,000 will have infectious staph or strep identified in milk cultures. Farms that have consistently low counts (less than 200,000) are more prone to flare-ups with coliforms.

            Check your DHIA records for any cows with linear SCC of 5-9. Then run a CMT on those cows to determine which quarters are involved. (If you’re not on DHIA, the only way to identify which cows is to CMT all cows in the herd.) Then we culture the involved quarters to see which bacteria are involved. By knowing the bacteria, we know the factors that led up to the problem and can then control and prevent new infections.

            Ways to improve bulk tank milk quality without treating individual cows:

1)     Strip cows with a strip cup before milking – this lets you visually check the milk and also gets the worst quality milk out before going into the pail or tank.

2)     Use a “quarter milker” (Fisher&Thompson) to keep out bad milk.

3)     Rinse milker unit out after a bad cow with a 1-part chlorox to 9 parts water solution.

4)     Wear latex gloves (these also reduce painful skin cracks in the winter).

5)     Make sure the teats are dry and clean (teat opening itself is most important).

6)     Consider pre and post dipping.

7)     Milk first calf heifers first – they are technically the cleanest milk.

8)     Try to have the same person do the same things day after day.

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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