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Every dairy should be able to achieve a bulk tank somatic cell count average of 250,000 or less. The differences between low cell count herds — 250,000 and below — and those with a cell count average over 400,000 are not great.

Basically, low-SCC herds have instituted programs and procedures that limit the number of bacteria on teat skin before milking units are attached. That’s important because the level of mastitis in any herd is directly related to the rate of new infection and the removal of existing infections on the dairy. These herds still follow a dry-cow treatment program and treat clinical mastitis cases, but their main focus is to milk clean, dry, stimulated teats at every milking.

How they meet the goal
It’s not just a matter of doing one more thing right. In order to meet the goal of milking clean, dry, stimulated teats at every milking, dairies must adhere to these seven steps.

1. Bring clean, calm cows to the barn or parlor. Employees must be trained to deliver the cows to the parlor in a manner that keeps them clean and calm during the trip. That means no yelling and walking behind the cows at an appropriate distance so they don’t hurry. Clean cows will have fewer bacteria on their teat ends, and, therefore, after udder preparation they will have even fewer bacteria present. And, calm cows achieve better primary oxytocin letdown and milk out quicker and more completely. 

2. Clip udders on a regular basis.

3. Keep the cows’ environment clean. Stall beds and cow alleys must be maintained regularly to minimize the contamination of the teats and udder floor.

4. Apply some type of germicide product to teats and then properly dry them. Teats must be dried with one circular motion on each teat, followed by flipping the towel and aggressively pinching each teat end.

5. Adhere to proper udder prep protocols consistently. The goal is to have the pre-dip on the teats for a minimum of 20 to 25 seconds and to have physical hand contact with the teats for 10 to 12 seconds to allow for adequate oxytocin letdown. Milking units should be attached at 90 seconds after teats are first touched during the udder preparation process. 

6. Maintain milking equipment properly. The most critical components of the milking equipment are the condition of inflations and rubber hoses. Pulsation maintenance is also important to minimize teat irritation during milking. Investing in a routine maintenance program for the milking equipment and following recommended change intervals for the inflations, short air tubes, and other disposable components of the milking system should minimize the milking system contribution as a cause of mastitis.

7. Adjust the milking system to properly remove units at the completion of milking. 

Low-cell-count herds have consistent udder-preparation procedures and consistent cow-handling procedures that bring clean cows calmly to the parlor, and system maintenance programs to ensure proper machine performance. When these critical factors are in place, the new infection rate will be maintained at an acceptable level.

Milk quality is never an accident. It is the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution. High milk quality represents the wise choices of many alternatives.

Talk to your veterinarian or the milk quality specialist from your co-op or equipment dealer about what you can do to achieve a somatic cell count of 250,000 or less. It’s an achievable goal for every dairy.

David Reid is a veterinarian from Hazel Green, Wis. who specializes in milk quality and is the director of milk harvest, science and technology for Bou-Matic.