Somatic cell count – it’s more than a number
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Somatic cell count – it’s more than a number

June 30, 2015
POSTED BY: Mark Kirkpatrick | DVM, MS | Managing Veterinarian | Dairy Technical Services | Zoetis

I recently examined lactation records of more than 164,000 Holstein cows on 22 diaries. I was looking for the presence of high first-test somatic cell count (SCC) or a recorded clinical mastitis case in the first 60 days in lactation. In the study, cows with an SCC greater than 200,000 cells/mL at the first DHI test were classified as subclinical mastitis infections.1

Subclinical infections, real consequences
The implication of high first-test SCC are real and expensive. 

These implications include:

  • Lost milk production throughout lactation2
  • Increased risk of clinical mastitis3-6
  • Increased treatment costs and production loss
  • Risk of mastitis recurrence
  • Cost of removals from herd1
  • Reduced reproductive efficiency3-6

According to this study, losses attributed to high first-test SCC consisted of the following:

  • 1,583 pounds of lost milk production, amounting to $285 (based on $18/cwt) in lost milk yield; these losses extend through 210 days in lactation1
  • 2.5 times more likely to develop a clinical case of mastitis by 60 days in milk (DIM) than the rest of the herd – not to mention the cost of treatment and production loss1
  • 3 times more likely to be culled within the first 60 DIM when compared with unaffected cows1
  • 17 additional days open (not pregnant) 1

Keep High-SCC cows in check
Monitoring individual cow SCC through monthly DHI testing is an important tool for tracking early lactation udder health.

Consider these steps:

  1. Evaluating each quarter of high-SCC cows using the California Mastitis Test (CMT).
  2. Treating subclinical mastitis infections with a broad-spectrum mastitis therapy labeled for subclinical mastitis.
  3. Collecting milk samples from each infected quarter to help identify the bacterial organism.

Work with your veterinarian to properly manage and identify high-SCC cows in your herd.

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

2 Hertl JA, Schukken YH, Bar D, et al. The effect of recurrent episodes of clinical mastitis caused by gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria and other organisms on mortality and culling in Holstein dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2011;94(10):4863-4877.

3 Chebel R. Mastitis effects on reproduction, in Proceedings. NMC Regional Meeting 2007;43-55.

4 Hertl JA, Gröhn YT, Leach JD, et al. Effects of clinical mastitis caused by gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria and other organisms on the probability of conception in New York State Holstein dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2010;93(4):1551-1560.

5 Hertl JA, Schukken YH, Welcome FL, Tauer LW, Gröhn YT. Effects of pathogen-specific clinical mastitis on probability of conception in Holstein dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2014;97(11):6942-6954.

6 Lavon Y, Ezra E, Leitner G, Wolfenson D. Association of conception rate with pattern and level of somatic cell count elevation relative to time of insemination in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2011;94(9):4538-4545.


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