Cell check system key to profitable dairy business

Ireland still has a problem with high SCC milk, but it is only in recent years that it is being taken seriously by all concerned with the dairy industry.

Cost of Mastitis/SCC

The cost of high SCC/mastitis in Ireland is estimated to be about €30m per annum. At any one time, it is estimated that one cow in four is affected by sub-clinical mastitis (high SCC).

On average, there are about 40 mastitis cases per 100 cows in Irish dairy herds. The proper use of a licensed teat dip/spray and good hygiene are priorities at this time of year, while ensuring the milking machine is in perfect working order.

All the rules and practices of good mastitis control should be carefully followed throughout the year.

Animal Health Ireland (AHI) and Teagasc are currently doing a lot of work with mastitis control. They have established the “Cell Check mastitis programme and every farmer should follow it.

This programme is broadly similar to what has been developed by Teagasc over the years and has proved to be highly effective when properly carried out.

The objective of this programme is to maintain a national average bulk milk SCC of 200,000 or less by 2020. The main barrier to achieving this objective will be to get sufficient farmers to participate in the programme.

A recent study by AHI indicates that net farm income on average dairy farms can be increased by €10,000 by reducing SCC from 350,000 to less than 200,000 and by another €4,500 if SCC is brought under 100,000.

High SCCs also cause very significant costs at processor level and this will be the subject of an AHI study this year.

The Teagasc milk quality hand book estimates that a 100-cow dairy herd with average SCC 400,000 would incur additional mastitis related costs of €11,700 compared with a similar herd with 100,000 SCC.

Most co-ops are paying a bonus for milk with less than 200,000 SCC and in some areas almost 70% of dairy farmers are not availing of this bonus.

Reasons for High SCCs

It is difficult to pinpoint any particular reason for the continuing problems with SCC. The misguided ending of most Teagasc/co-op mastitis control programmes in the late nineties was a major contributing factor. The introduction of bonuses and realistic penalties for SCC milk was delayed for far too long.

The seasonal adjustment for SCC prolonged the problem because it enabled farmers with very high SCCs to continue from year to year without getting rid of the root causes of their high SCCs, at huge cost to themselves and the co-op.

Unfortunately, the modern emphasis on milking speed often results in a lowering of milking standards.

Recent Programmes

Most co-ops are operating some kind of mastitis/SCC control programme. Seven years ago, Dairygold Co-op temporarily engaged the full-time services of two advisers from Teagasc to tackle SCC problems and other milk quality criteria. This was a great move by Dairygold, resulting in major improvements in SCC and other milk quality criteria.

The Dairygold programme has made a significant impact, as its suppliers are averaging less than 190 SCC so far this year, far better than national average.

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