August 22, 2017 - How Low Is Too Low?

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017 - Can somatic cell counts get too low? — a question often raised by producers who are trying to achieve optimum milk quality.  A high somatic cell count (SCC) is undesirable from the standpoint of quality, but some producers fear that a SCC that is too low might result in more cases of mastitis due to reduced bacteria-fighting capacity.

Somatic cells are white blood cells that fight infection and repair tissue damage. When the udder is infected, white blood cells move to the udder and into the milk to defend against the invading bacteria.

Without this important process, elimination of even mild cases of mastitis would be very slow with increased tissue damage. Milk SCC simply measures the number of cells in the milk. The higher the SCC, the greater the chance that the quarter is infected. The key to mastitis prevention is good management practices and healthy cows that can quickly fight mastitis battles when needed.

The question is, are low SCC cows at greater risk to mastitis infections? Ideally, an individual cow cell count should be between 100,000 and 150,000. With a count below 50,000, there is some evidence that cows respond more slowly to infection.

Dairy producers are generally encouraging to decrease their SCC for high production and profitability. Many farms are reaching an overall herd SCC of less than 75,000, which was unheard of 10 years ago.

As farms reduce their bulk talk SCC below 100,000, they increase the number of low cell count cows in their herd. This may slightly increase the risk of clinical mastitis. However, the benefits of having a low SCC far outweigh the risks. The answer is not to increase your SCC, but to maximize immunity and keep cows in the best environment possible.

The pros outweigh the cons in this particular debate. Producers should continue to produce the highest quality milk possible. A low SCC means increased income from more milk, increased quality premiums, and decreased mastitis costs. Keeping your cows healthy with proper nutrition, a clean environment, and good management will reduce the risk of infection. The ultimate winner is the consumer, who gets a high quality dairy product.

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