The cost of high somatic cell counts
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The cost of high somatic cell counts

October 15, 2015
POSTED BY: Mark Kirkpatrick | DVM, MS | Managing Veterinarian | Dairy Technical Services | Zoetis

Are you losing money because of subclinical mastitis? Most of my customers respond to this question with a puzzled look because, unless they’re seeing physical mastitis symptoms — abnormal milk, udder swelling, fevers— any other type of mastitis is a nonevent.

Without physical symptoms, what are the signs?

Producers and veterinarians are trained to look for physical evidence when it comes to identifying diseases in cows. After all, we can’t treat what doesn’t exist. But evidence of subclinical mastitis isn’t completely untraceable. You can find the answers in:

  • Monthly individual cow somatic cell count (SCC) test reports
  • Bulk tank reports

It doesn’t require a trained eye to spot the problem — cows with individual SCC in excess of 200,000 cells/mL may indicate a subclinical mastitis infection.

Keep a close eye on ‘hot sheet’ cows

Are you curious whether subclinical mastitis infections might be undermining early lactation udder health on your dairy operation?

First step: Pull first-test SCC data from your most recent Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) test records. You’re likely already doing this to find those cows you want to keep a closer eye on, but here are more areas to focus on:

  1. Examine the proportion or percentage of cattle with a first test greater than 200,000 cells/mL.
    • First-lactation cattle have no previous lactation history. By month of freshening, compare first-lactation cattle with older cattle.
    • Strive for no more than 10% affected in a given month of freshening. If possible, this data is best put in perspective by examining the last 13 months of freshenings.
  1. Create “hot sheets” to manage high-SCC cows.
    • Make a list of cows with somatic cell counts greater than 200,000 cells/mL that merit closer examination.
  1. Involve your veterinarian.
    • Share these “hot sheets” with your veterinarian.
    • Work with your veterinarian to establish monitoring and culturing protocols, along with on-label treatment protocols, based on common pathogens on your dairy operation to provide the best chance for a complete bacteriological cure.
  1. Develop a pathogen map.
    • Evaluate the quarters of high-SCC cows using the California Mastitis Test or another approved testing system.
    • Collect milk samples from each infected quarter to help identify mastitis-causing pathogens.
    • By identifying the bacterial organisms, you can develop a pathogen map or pie chart for your dairy.
    • Use the pathogen map or pie chart to help you determine the best course of prevention and therapy.
    • Implementing a fresh cow culturing program also can help understand potential exposure to mastitis-causing pathogens in the dry cow environment.
  1. Treat (that’s right, I said “treat”) subclinical mastitis infections

Treating mastitis cases at the subclinical level improves the likelihood that infections will resolve before they become clinical.

We normally see cows with two or more lactations have higher proportions of first-test high SCC scores of 200,000 or greater. When we use ORBESEAL®  teat sealant and SPECTRAMAST® DC (ceftiofur hydrochloride) Sterile Suspension, we expect these older cattle to be as good as, or slightly better than, the first-lactation SCC scores.

Ask your veterinarian about mastitis therapies specifically labeled to treat subclinical mastitis infections. Keep in mind that not every cow that tests positive for subclinical mastitis is a candidate for treatment. Examine the cow’s health history as a triaging procedure and consider:

    • Culture results
    • Parity of the cow
    • Stage of lactation
    • Number of previous clinical mastitis cases and what quarter was previously affected
    • Previous SCC test data history, if available
    • Chronicity of mastitis cases
    • Other persistent health issues, such as pneumonia or lameness
    • Production and reproductive records

Cows with a high SCC at first test (greater than 200,000) can experience an increased loss of 576 pounds of milk, when compared with cows having clinical mastitis in the first 60 days of lactation.2

Prevention of both clinical and subclinical mastitis infections in the first 60 days of lactation should be a goal for every dairy. Talk with your veterinarian to establish best practices for culturing, record-keeping, hygiene, parlor management and employee training to improve prevention efforts.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR SPECTRAMAST DC: People with known hypersensitivity to penicillin or cephalosporins should avoid exposure to SPECTRAMAST DC. Product requires a 30-day dry cow period, and has a 16-day pre-slaughter withdrawal period following last treatment. Use of this product in a manner other than indicated on the label, or failure to adhere to the proper milk discard period, will result in violative residues. See full Prescribing Information.

Refer to the ORBESEAL label for complete instructions on proper administration at dry off and removal at freshening.

1 National Mastitis Council. Current concepts of bovine mastitis. 4th ed. Madison, Wis.: National Mastitis Council, 1996.

2 Kirkpatrick MA, Olson JD. Somatic Cell Counts at First Test: More than a Number, in Proceedings. NMC Annu Meet 2015;53-56.




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