Target SCC - improving milk quality

Somatic cell count targets

In an ideal world, controlling cell counts in the dairy herd by following recommend practices would be simple, but unfortunately due to the innate variability of conditions on dairy farms in the UK and the multifactorial nature of mastitis incidence, the problem of high Somatic Cell Counts can be particularly perplexing for many herds that meet best practice recommendations but fail to significantly lower cell counts.

For these reasons, and because of the differing business aims of different dairy farmers and the differing contractual stipulations of their milk buyers, no single SCC target for all dairy herds may be appropriate or in many cases achievable. However, due to an increasing awareness of cow welfare and pressure to improve milk quality, it is obvious that most dairy farmers have to attempt to improve levels of both clinical and subclinical mastitis in their herds, and to benefit from the bonuses they can receive for producing milk with lower SCCs.

The generally-quoted aims for mastitis control and milk quality on UK dairy farms are:

  • A mastitis incidence rate of no more than 30 cases per 100 cows per year.
  • A mastitis persistence rate of no more than 20% of the herd affected per year.
  • A mastitis re-occurrence rate of less than 10% of the total number of cases.
  • A herd-average Somatic Cell Count below 150,000 cells/ml.
  • An average Bactoscan result of below 5,000.

In general terms, rule of thumb is for every 100,000 cells/ml increase in the herd bulk SCC, there is an 8-10% increase in the proportion of cows infected in the herd. Persistently high individual cow SCC results can indicate chronic mastitis problems.

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