Both domestically and overseas, the standards for the type of milk processors want to buy have become more stringent. For dairy farms to remain competitive in the future, there is a need to produce market-ready milk.
That was one point emphasized by Michigan State University’s Pam Ruegg, D.V.M., during the September Hoard’s Dairyman monthly webinar. The professor noted the changes she has seen in both milk output and milk quality during her career as a veterinarian and then in academia. Certain states are growing in production while others are declining, and milk that is sold via exports has gone from almost nothing to nearly 20% of the nation’s annual milk yield.
“The product we produce is highly valued,” Ruegg said, “but where it is being produced and where it is going has changed.”
During the webinar, Ruegg shared insight from two milk buyers. Both were looking to purchase high quality, low-risk milk. To them, low-risk milk meant milk produced on farms participating in the National Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program, farms that were well maintained, and farms that treated their employees well.
Ruegg suggested these benchmarks as goals for selling market-ready milk:
- A somatic cell count below 150,000 cells per milliliter (mL)
- A total bacterial count less than 5,000
- A logarithmic bacteria count under 100
- A coliform count less than 50
- A preliminary incubation (PI) count less than 10,000
- A commitment to low-risk farm practices
In terms of maintaining a competitive level of udder health, Ruegg said 85% of cows should be free of subclinical mastitis, which would be defined as having a somatic cell count (SCC) under 200,000 cells/mL. She pointed out that the top tier of farms would only have 10% of cows in that over 200,000 cells/mL category. “We have done a really good job achieving competitive udder health,” she said.
She noted that some farms only use bulk tank to monitor somatic cell count, but more data is needed.
“Bulk tank somatic cell count, especially on larger farms, is not enough data to manage udder health in individual cows,” she said. “You need individual cow somatic cell count data in order to detect subclinical mastitis and to manage it.”
Ruegg said there is a relationship between bulk tank SCC and prevalence of cows with subclinical mastitis in the herd because the driver for bulk tank somatic cell count is the percent of cows in the herd over 200,000 cells/mL. However, measuring individual cow cell count offers data to manage cows within the herd.
“Use individual somatic cell count data to measure and manage animal health,” Ruegg stated. “We need it, and it’s a good investment.”