Mastitis costs dairy farms more than any other disease. Control clinical and subclinical infections to improve milk quality and boost profitability.
High SCC milk is not desirable for milk processors because it reduces the shelf life of dairy products and diminishes the quality and quantity of milk protein, in return reducing cheese yields. It has been shown that cheese yields from an individual cow are affected when SCC exceeds 100,000 cells/mL. Cheese yields of milk comingled from a group of cows are impacted more by the proportion of cows with SCC >100,000 cells/mL than by the bulk tank SCC average. Most milk cooperatives pay premiums for higher quality milk. In the past year producers have seen these premiums slowly erode, but achieving the highest premium available can make or break some dairies. Quality premiums are a great opportunity for producers to increase profitability and are one of the few ways to impact the price paid for milk. Farms that are not maximizing this opportunity are missing out on an important source of income. Controlling subclinical mastitis and producing lower SCC milk represents a potential profit opportunity associated with both increased production and increased milk price through premiums. Most farms can justify an investment in improving their milk quality program, simply by the return of real dollars in quality premiums.
Somatic cells in milk consist of white blood cells and epithelial cells that are shed from the udder. When the cow’s udder becomes inflamed, her immune system sends large numbers of white blood cells to fight off the infection. A SCC >200,000 indicates that the cow has a subclinical mastitis infection. Linear score (LS) is another way to measure SCC. Research has shown that LS is highly related to loss of milk production in infected cows. Loss of milk production is the result of damage and chronic scarring of milk secretory tissue in the udder. Linear score data can be used to estimate milk production losses due to subclinical mastitis. Each increased unit of LS greater than the farm goal equates to an annual loss of 200 pounds of milk for first lactation animals or 400 pounds for older animals. Improvements in subclinical mastitis are not always as easy to see as increased milk quality premiums, but considerable improvement in production is possible by limiting the number of subclinical mastitis infections on your farm.
Lost premium opportunities, decreased milk production, and discarded milk are only some of the total costs associated with mastitis on most dairy farms. Mastitis causes additional losses due to death, culling, decreased genetic gain, and reductions in reproductive efficiency. These additional costs are often difficult to track on an individual farm. Keeping accurate on-farm records of clinical mastitis cases and treatment methods and testing SCC monthly will help you develop a more accurate picture of what mastitis truly costs. Don’t wait; tackle milk quality issues now! Contact your local Penn State Extension Dairy Educator to help you trouble shoot and make your farm more profitable.
- Barbano, D. M., R. R. Rasmussen, J. M. and Lynch. 1991. Influence of milk SCC and milk age on cheese yield. J. Dairy Sci. 74:369-388.
- Ott, S. 1999. Costs of herd-level production losses associated with subclinical mastitis in US Dairy Cows. Pages 152-156 in Proc. 38th Ann. Mtg. Natl. Mastitis Counc., Arlington, VA. Natl. Mastitis Counc., Madison, WI.
- Raubertas, R. F., and G. E. Shook. 1982. Relationship between lactation measures of somatic cell concentration and milk yield. J. Dairy Sci. 65:419-425.