A goal of almost any dairy farm is to reduce the herd’s somatic cell count. A low somatic cell count creates a higher quality product to sell. For many, there are also milk price incentives to keep the cell count below a certain level.
As the saying goes, “It takes money to make money,” and as one might expect, there are some potential costs associated with producing lower somatic cell count milk. Veterinarian Brandon Treichler, who works for Select Milk Producers, touched on a few of these costs during his presentation at the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) annual meeting in St. Louis, Mo.
Feed is a major cost center on a dairy. Treichler shared his belief that feed costs decline, or at the very least feed efficiency improves, when cows are producing milk with a lower somatic cell count.
Labor, on the other hand, likely increases a little bit.
“You have to do more training, more monitoring, and you may have to be more diligent with the labor you have,” he said. He also pointed out that some dairies pay bonuses based on milk quality, which would raise labor costs.
As for consumables associated with harvesting milk, Treichler said those don’t really change.
“You don’t need the highest priced teat dip or the highest priced inflation to make low somatic cell count milk,” he said. “You need an inflation and you need teat dip. You don’t need the lowest priced one or the highest priced one; you just need one that fits on your farm.”
Looking to the future, Treichler noted that penalties for milk with a high somatic cell count will likely go up. “It is very hard to get rid of low-quality milk,” he said.
On the flip side, milk quality is a way for producers to impact their bottom line.
“If your co-op offers quality bonuses, absolutely get all of them. Maximize them,” he said. “It is one of the few ways outside of components that we have to be price makers, not price takers.”
He added, “Your business is making milk. A high cell count disrupts the biology of milk production. It’s a no brainer.”
Treichler also tied in the importance of public perception. “Continue to work on your somatic cell count in order to maximize production efficiency and because it’s good for the industry. Don’t lose sight of that fact,” he said.