The authors are Land O'Lakes milk production specialists based in Pennsylvania.

The European Union's pending en­forcement of somatic cell counts of 400,000 cells per milliliter or less for its imported milk products has renewed interest in reducing SCCs across the nation. Improved herd health and economics have been long-time incentives to lower cell counts.

Every dairy should have an SCC goal of 200,000 or less. Herd health issues, lower milk production, and loss of quality premiums all reduce your income. With higher feed costs and uncertain milk prices, it is essential to manage SCCs to boost your bottom line.

Jeff Funk, herd manager and part owner of Funks Midway Dairy at Melrose, Minn., says he approaches managing milk quality from two sides. "For the consumer, low cell counts help extend product shelf-life and improve flavor. For the producer, keeping counts low means fewer treatments, lower costs, more milk per cow, and less wasted milk."

Start by culturing milk from the bulk tank to identify the predominant organisms in the herd. Since cows don't always shed bacteria all the time, take samples over consecutive milkings, and comingle them for testing. When adding new cows to the herd, use bulk tank culturing to monitor any introduction of new infections.

Follow up bulk tank cultures by finding which cows are the culprits causing the high counts. Funk says there are two tools he can't live without when it comes to maintaining an SCC below 74,000 on their 500-cow dairy . . . DHIA reports and the California Mastitis Test. He uses dairy management software to generate a list of any cow on their DHI report with an SCC over 150,000. Then they use the CMT on milk from each quarter of those cows. If the milk tests positive, they take a sample and culture it to see what organism is causing the high count. "The faster you can cure a cow, or at least put her in a separate group to prevent spreading, the better you can control your SCC."

Try this strategy
Once the infected cows have been identified, implement a treatment plan to protect cow health and your profits. A veterinarian can assist in establishing a treatment protocol specific to your herd. Pinpoint the cause, and take steps to prevent future infections. Evaluate milking procedures, personnel, housing, environment, equipment function, and nutrition.

Top tips include:
Be sure to keep cows and udders clean and dry. Maintain bedding in free stalls or housing areas frequently. Fence off wet, muddy areas. Keep udder hair short.
Follow a strict milking procedure paying special attention to full coverage of pre- and postdipping, discarding foremilk, and carefully cleaning teat ends.
Identify bacteria by culturing the bulk tank and 5 to 10 percent of cows with the highest SCCs in the herd. Adjust your protocols to handle the predominant bacteria.
Dry treat all quarters.
Cull chronic cows that don't respond to treatment.
Check milking system twice a year using a qualified service provider.

To read more about handing high somatic cell count cows, read the Milk Quality feature story on pages 262 & 263 in the April 10, 2011 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.