April 27 2012 06:21 AM

2011 was the sixth straight year that SCCs declined in DHIA herds

Did your herd's average somatic cell count drop a little in 2011? Chances are it did, according to USDA and the National Dairy Herd Improvement Association.

The annual report by the Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory shows that average SCC by herds on official DHIA test last year was 217,000. That was 4.8 percent less than in 2010, it was the sixth consecutive year of decline in a row, and it was the ninth in 10 years. It's a trend the benefits both milk producers and consumers alike.

In the limited period for which data is available, average SCCs peaked at 322,000 in 2001. That means the 2011 figure was nearly one-third lower than just a decade ago.

Keep in mind, however, that the report may not accurately reflect the quality of all milk produced in the U.S. during any of the years that it summarizes. In 2011, official DHIA test data came from just 28 percent of the nation's herds (14,400) and just 41 percent of the cows (3.78 million.)

The states with the lowest SCC averages by DHIA herds were Rhode Island (158,000), Oregon (169,000), New Mexico (171,000), Arizona and Washington (172,000), Michigan (173,000), Vermont (176,000), and Idaho (179,000).

Rather than being due to just one thing, the strong positive trend in milk quality is more likely the result of many factors. Last year those included high beef prices that encouraged problem cows to be culled rather than treated; improved economic conditions that allowed producers to do more equipment maintenance than in recent years; growing management understanding about the importance of cow comfort and cleanliness: and increasing emphasis on low SCCs by cooperatives that sell dairy products internationally.