Ireland’s hugely enhanced milk quality down to mastitis control

Mastitis infection

Mastitis / SCC Control
Ireland’s milk quality has improved very much in recent years but there is still a problem with some high SCC herds. 

It is only in recent years that the SCC/mastitis problem is being taken really seriously by all concerned with the dairy industry and good progress is being made.

Cost of Mastitis/SCC

The cost of high SCC/mastitis in Ireland is about €25m per annum. At any one time it is estimated that one cow in four is affected by sub clinical mastitis (high SCC). 

The proper use of a good licensed teat dip/spray and good hygiene is a priority 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

Animal Health Ireland (AHI), Teagasc and co-ops are 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 is proved to be highly effective when properly carried out.

The objectiveis to maintain a national average bulk milk SCC of 200,000 or less by 2020.

The only barrier to achieving this objective will be to get sufficient farmers to participate in the programme.

Personally I think that the objective should be even more ambitious.

A study by AHI indicates that net farm income on dairy farms can be increased by €10,000 by reducing SCC from 350,000 to less than 200,000. High SCCs also cause very significant costs at processor level.

Milk quality handbook

The Teagasc milk quality handbook 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.

Co-ops are paying a bonus for milk with less than 200,000 SCC and in some areas over 50% of dairy farmers are not fully availing of this bonus for some of the year.

The supply to one large southern co-op is averaging well under 170,000 this year due to the excellent mastitis programmes in conjunction with Teagasc for decades.

Reasons for high SCCs persisting

It is difficult to pin point 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-ops.

The modern emphasis on milking speed often results in a lowering of milking standards. But the biggest reason is that only about 50% of our herds are milk recorded and often very poor use is made of recording reports.

Tackling problems

Very often the best way to investigate serious problems is to be present during milking and this was a regular part of some of the most successful Teagasc/co-op programmes in the past.

Investigations conducted during milking often reveal the reasons for problems that will not be revealed by testing the machine, particularly regarding milking and hygiene practices.

If cows are restless in the parlour it may indicate electrical problems, cows being packed too tightly, a milking machine fault or poor milking practices.

Teat end damage is a major tell-tale sign that something is wrong. Taking clusters off under some vacuum is still fairly common in problem herds. This may be due to faulty shut off valves or poor milking technique.

Clusters should be taken off and put on without any noise of air or vacuum.

Otherwise there will be teat end damage which will lead to mastitis and high SCC.

Teat end damage can also result from vacuum being too high, from poor pulsation or perhaps inadequate fall in milk line (very common in older machines).

Inadequate use of teat disinfectants is quite common which is often due to faulty or wrong type of sprayers.

The proper usage of teat spray is 15 mls per cow and teats should be sprayed evenly all around.

In a minority of high SCC herds it is difficult to identify the cause and a lot of investigation is required.

Disinfecting clusters between cows was found to be a major deterrent to spreading mastitis within infected herds. Alternatively if there are only a few problem cows they could be milked last and culled when the opportunity arises.

Conclusions

In summary it could be concluded that the main reasons for high SCCs include the following; faulty milking machines, faulty milking technique such as taking cluster off under vacuum, poor hygiene, inadequate teat disinfectant, inadequate SCC records and culling, problems with power supply and inappropriate antibiotic use in problem herds.

The aim should be to keep SCC’s consistently well under 200,000 and have very few cases of mastitis. The SCC’s of first lactation animals should be consistently under 80,000. 

If the SCCs of first calvers and other young cows are rising there is certainly something wrong and urgent action should be taken.

If SCC’s are averaging over 200,000 it indicates some level of infection in the herd which is likely to give rise to sporadic outbreaks of mastitis.

Diseases such as BVD can depress the immune system and give rise to SCC problems.


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