Counting somatic cells benefits the consumer, farmer and the cow.

If consumers were told that the milk they were about to drink contained somatic cells, they might not want to drink it at all! The word 'somatic' makes it sound as if something is wrong. However, farmers know better. They know that the somatic cells in the milk are not at all sick but are white blood cells, a vital part of the cow's immune system.

Just as the milk is part of a living organism, so are the somatic cells -it is mother natures way of securing milk for the generation of cows. The number of somatic cells in milk, the so called somatic cell count (SCC), speaks clearly about the state of the cows immune system in general and her udder in particular.

You could be losing up to 1p per litre on your milk price, if SCC are too high. High numbers indicate that the immune system is in a state of alert. Opportunistic bacterial infections typically occur when the resistance of the animal is compromised. In the UK, anything above 200-250,000 really hits the pocket in terms of lost bonuses and once you get above 400,000 the severe penalties can be as much as two thirds the milk price.

In studies of dry cows around the world, it has been found that the cells of the immune system can often be suppressed before calving. This is due to the cow nurturing the unborn calf and often the cow is not being provided with adequate vitamins and minerals in her feed, therefore has low resistance to infection. The mammary gland just before calving is often highly susceptible to new infections therefore leading to mastitis. At the onset of infection, white blood cells will normally move rapidly from the blood into the mammary gland.

It is so important to pay particular attention to dry cow nutrition and ensure that the correct levels of vitamins and minerals are being fed to the cows. We recommend using our Vitalick Precalver GP Buckets along with quality feed.

Cows with immune systems that malfunction, respond more slowly to infection. Any delay or breakdown in sending white blood cells to the infection, lets bacteria multiply in the infected quarter. In the case of mastitis caused by E. Coli bacteria, which multiply very quickly, this is a big disadvantage, as cows with slow immune systems have more bacteria to fight and are much more likely to have more severe mastitis. Cows turned out to grass still need vitamin and mineral supplementation. We highly recommend our Vitalick Cattle GP Buckets for use in the field.

Therefore dairy farmers can benefit from knowing the SCC for their cows. Good herdsman practises, teat dipping, disinfecting teat ends before drying off, cleanliness and attention to detail in general will all help lower SCC. Knowing the SCC enables the farmer to increase not only yield level and health in the herd, but also milk quality and thereby profitability.

Many thanks to the International Dairy Topics publication, Positive Action Publications Ltd.

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