Production Pointers: Herd Health

Herd Health

July 30, 2009

Monitor individual SCC to improve herd health

The measure of somatic cell count (SCC) is critical in determining udder health. According to the National Mastitis Council, a herd with a bulk tank SCC of 200,000 cells/mL or greater is considered to be producing “abnormal” milk (1). Higher counts indicate infection and are associated with decreased production. For example, a herd with a bulk tank SCC of 500,000 can be expected to have 16% of its quarters infected with varying degrees of subclinical mastitis, with a 6% reduction in milk production.(2)

While routine bulk tank SCC testing is a good measure of the general status of your herd’s udder health, it doesn’t tell you what to do about those high numbers.  Identifying problem cows, determining factors contributing to high SCC and developing a management plan for them starts with individual cow screening tests and can lead to better treatment success rates and higher premiums. Because mastitis is frequently subclinical or “hidden,” several tests are available to detect mastitis by estimating the SCC of a milk sample.

“Detecting subclinical mastitis earlier in its process is a top goal of individual SCC testing,” said Bradley Mills, DVM, Dairy Veterinary Operations, Pfizer Animal Health. “If you can catch the infection sooner in individual animals and choose to treat that animal, your treatment success rate will be higher.”

Testing options

“Whether to test composite milk samples or individual quarters depends on each operation’s strategy,” Mills continued. “If you’re going to make the decision to treat an animal, you should screen each quarter and then treat only the quarter(s) with the high cell count. Producers may spend more on upfront diagnostics, but end up saving that in treatment costs.”

Mills noted there are several options available for individual animal testing. For example, the DeLaval cell counter provides accurate results within a few minutes. Producers take a sample from a quarter, draw the milk into a cartridge, insert it into the cell counter machine and a few minutes later you have an SCC detection from 10,000 up to 5 million. The California Mastitis Test (CMT) also is an option if used properly. Due to its sensitivity, handlers need to be precise in order to get an accurate reading.

Francisco M. Rivas, quality milk manager, Pfizer Animal Health, added, “If a producer wants to focus on milk quality, there is so much information to be gleaned from individual SCC and milk component tests. Not only can you monitor infection and cure rates, you can also track butter fat and protein ratios, which help pinpoint other issues.”

The key is monitoring the data on a regular basis to get the most value out of it. “If a producer is monitoring infection rates and individual SCC, he knows which cows are contributing the most somatic cells to a bulk tank,” Rivas explained. “Finding out which cows likely have subclinical mastitis gives producers more options including pursuing an extended therapy treatment.”

Finding the cows that are chronically infected early may also increase the lifetime value. “Constant infection can lead to scar tissue that never recovers when a cow dries up leading to lost production every year.” Rivas said.

Work with your veterinarian to help you with individual SCC testing and to develop and implement a program to successfully control subclinical mastitis in your herd.

The Pfizer Animal Health Dairy Wellness Plan is a 365-day approach to managing your dairy operation that focuses on the health of the dairy animal, the economic health of the dairy and the appropriate use of animal health products leading to a safe and healthy food supply. For more information on the Dairy Wellness Plan, visit

(1) Smith KL, Hillerton JE, Harmon, RJ. NMC guidelines on normal and abnormal raw milk based on SCC and signs of clinical mastitis. Madison, Wis.: National Mastitis Council, 2001.

(2) Eberhart RJ, Harmon RJ, Jasper DE, Natzke RP, Nickerson SC, Reneau JK, Row EH, Smith KL, Spencer SB. Current concepts of bovine mastitis. 3rd ed. Arlington, Va.: National Mastitis Council, 1987.

Source: Pfizer Animal Health (

Basic biosecurity reduces disease risk

If you have an established dairy herd, the biggest risk factor for introducing diseases is from new animals.  What’s the solution, since not every herd can be completely isolated, and sometimes animals needed to be added to the herd or returned after being shown at the fair?

The answer: practicing basic biosecurity, according to Michigan State University (MSU) Extension educator Ben Bartlett and Dan Grooms, MSU Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

Good biosecurity is not a guarantee, but can greatly decrease the chance of spending significant time and money and experiencing huge amounts of lost income to new disease issues. No one can build a perfect barrier, but like most issues, the biggest benefit is doing some of the simple and low-cost items that can provide the greatest risk reduction. It is not important to have perfect biosecurity but it is critical to have basic biosecurity.

Biosecurity is four simple steps:

1. Test. Screen for diseases, such as Staph mastitis, BVD-PI and Johne’s.

2. Isolate. 30 feet for 30 days. A great rule of thumb is feed and handle new animals last.

3. Sanitation. Clean and disinfect before coming onto farm or when moving between older and younger groups of animals.

4. Immunity. Build immunity. If sanitation is the fence, then vaccination is the guard dog.

Test, isolate, sanitation and immunity (TISI): The most important part of biosecurity is putting TISI  into practice, every day and every time an animal comes on to your farm – no exceptions.

If you would like to learn more about biosecurity practices, visit the National Animal Health Monitoring web site at

Elsewhere on

Vet weighs in on herd health topic

Stevie Smith, a veterinarian well known in the Texas Panhandle and Eastern New Mexico, took time recently to shed light on some regional herd health issues. Smith said there is still much more that can be done with diagnostics and preventative medicine to keep cows healthy. To read the full article, visit

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