Dairy producers are doing something right.
A study presented in September 2011 at the 3rd International Symposium on Mastitis and Milk Quality shows a continued decline in bulk tank somatic cell counts, indicating improved milk quality.
Improvements in management, housing and technology have made this possible.
“In most cases, our clients use full prep routines. We have better teat dips, particularly better winter-protectant dips. We are doing a better job washing towels and monitoring the cleanliness of the towels and the barn,” says Angela Daniels, a veterinarian with Circle H Headquarters in Dalhart, Texas.
Bottom-line: Milk quality should continue to improve at a significant rate.
The study from the milk-quality symposium used data from four Federal Milk Marketing Orders, representing almost 50 percent of the milk shipped in the U.S.
It showed significant improvement over the past five to seven years. In 2010, the average bulk tank somatic cell count was 224,000 cells/ml., compared to 258,000 in 2005, an improvement of 13.2 percent.
More than 99 percent of the milk and 98 percent of the shipments monitored during 2010 met the current federal regulatory limit of 750,000 somatic cell count.
Even with a stricter 400,000 somatic cell count limit, as some have proposed for the United States, 89.5 percent of the milk would have qualified, according to the National Mastitis Council.
The study was a collaborative effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Mastitis Council.
What’s behind the improvement?
A number of inputs can impact somatic cell count on a dairy — everything from bedding, cow health, environmental changes, milking equipment, sanitation and more. It’s difficult to point to one area that makes the difference.
“From my experience, it is dairy-specific and is generally multifactorial,” says Daniels, who works with clients throughout the Dalhart, Texas, area to improve milk quality when opportunities arise.
“We advocate a monitoring program that includes regular bulk tank cultures, monitoring fresh cows for contagious mastitis and bacterial monitoring of mastitis cases,” Daniels says.
“The small things matter a lot,” she adds. “Farms that have good milk quality are good at mastitis recognition, maybe to a point where we are hypersensitive. They also have sound milking and treatment protocols in place and a good monitoring system that allows us to recognize when changes occur.”