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Somatic Cell Count (SCC) management in early lactation


Early identification of Somatic Cell Count (SCC) issues is important to being in control of SCC through lactation and especially as we head into the new era of selective dry cow therapy later this year. Stuart Childs, Teagasc Dairy Specialist explains how the California Mastitis Test (CMT) can help

Clinical mastitis is easy to identify, subclinical mastitis however, can spiral out of control if left unchecked.

Early milk recording is the gold standard for identifying problem cows but a significant proportion of the herd may be calved before this takes place. While not as accurate, early investigation using the California Mastitis Test (CMT) before a cow’s milk goes to the bulk tank (5th day post calving – check antibiotic tube for exact withdrawal) can help identify cows very early in lactation that have potential to impact on your bulk tank Somatic Cell Count (SCC) and their herdmates.

Testing on the 5th or 6th day post calving should see the stress of the calving process passed for most animals, the exception being the odd excitable heifer. CMT testing cows at this stage, you will have 3 potential outcomes;

  1. CMT is clear and that cow is suitable for milking to the tank
  2. CMT shows coagulation on all four quarters – this is more than likely stress related and associated with freshly calved heifers
  3. CMT shows coagulation on one or two quarters. This indicates high SCC/infection of these quarters.

Retest category 2 cows after a few days to confirm the result but disinfect clusters in the intervening time.

Cows falling into category 3 animals will need treatment (assuming they haven’t a SCC history) to address the issues identified. Discuss treatment options with your vet. These cows should be milked last or clusters will need to be disinfected post milking to prevent any potential spread. Many people use tail tape (important to use proper tail tape as insulation tape left on for a period can potentially cause infection) to identify cows that need cluster disinfection post milking. Discuss options for cluster disinfection with your advisor.

For further information on how to perform the California Mastitis Test watch the video below.

Don Crowley Teagasc Milk Quality Advisor shows how to use the California Mastitis Test to identify high cell count quarters in high cell count cows. This is a simple, low cost test that can be done by farmers themselves and a very useful management tool to reduce somatic cell count in your herd.

The Teagasc Dairy Specialists issue an article on a topic of interest to dairy farmers every Monday here on Teagasc Daily. Find more on Teagasc Dairy here