200,000 SCC isn’t low enough

From Mike Lormore | DVM, MS, MBA | Director | Cattle Technical Services | Zoetis

An 11-year study involving 489 year-end financial- and production-record summaries from Midwest USA herds shows that a 200,000 cell/mL goal isn’t really good enough. The study was done cooperatively between Zoetis and Compeer Financial Services.

In the study, the top third of herds had a bulk tank average cell count of 134,000 cells/mL while the bottom third had a 284,000 cells/mL average. “The difference in SCC was associated with an 4kg differences in milk production, increasing pregnancy rates and fewer death losses,” says Mike Lormore, Director of Dairy Cattle Technical Services for Zoetis.

“The challenge,” he says, “is to rethink your ultimate SCC goal—200,000 SCC isn’t low enough. The study showed that for every 100,000 cells/mL increase in bulk tank SCC, milk yield declines 2-3 kg

. “To increase dairy production and operation profitability, pushing your SCC lower—to 150,000 or even 100,000—is critical,” Lormore says.

Doing so involves three steps:

1 Keep SCC in check. Have a management strategy that actively monitors individual cow cell count and new infections. “Have protocols in place for identifying mastitis pathogens and treating them,”

2 Prevent new infections. “When going into the dry period, set protocols that are both tailored to clear up existing infections and prevent new ones,

3 Reduce mastitis risk. “Nothing lessens the financial impact of mastitis like reducing the risk of it occurring,” Use genomic testing to identify and raise cattle that are less susceptible to mastitis and other diseases. He says cows in the top quartile of mastitis-resistant animals need half as many mastitis treatments and have half as much discarded milk as cows in the bottom quartile.

4 Sometimes, despite our best efforts, cows die. While not a specific measure, death rates are really an indicator of overall animal husbandry practices.  Excellent animal husbandry skills have tremendous impacts on herd profitability. All data point to net farm income being positively influenced by a qualified, invested workforce capable of maintaining healthy lactating and replacement animals, maintaining efficient reproduction and limiting involuntary culling and death losses.

5 The cost of cow turnover is not just the difference between replacement heifer costs and the value of a cull cow. Consider the productivity potential of the animal being removed compared with a new cow. First lactation cows produce 15% less milk than second lactation cows and 25% less than third lactation. As such, replacing an older cow with a first-lactation animal represents a significant loss in current productivity and individual animal cash flow. Unmanaged cow turnover can be a huge drain on profits.

6 The study showed that both the top and bottom one-third of herds took heifer raising seriously, with top herds averaging 95% heifer survival rate and bottom herds averaging 93% survival rate. A strong focus on heifer management impacts profitability from many angles, and the compounding impact of successful heifer management substantially supports successful long-term sustainability.