Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Applying new solutions to old problems

What do you do when your SCC is over 400,000, even though you run a spotless operation? One Kilkenny farmer has found a solution using smartphone technology

Joe Cody supplies Glanbia, where the SCC threshold has dropped from 400,000 to just 350,000 in recent years
Joe Cody supplies Glanbia, where the SCC threshold has dropped from 400,000 to just 350,000 in recent years
Joe Cody with his children Eva and Shane
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

When you arrive in Joe Cody's farmyard just outside Kilmanagh on the Kilkenny-Tipperary border, you know that this is a farmer that takes pride in his operation. Neat flower pots, everything in its place - not exactly the place that you'd expect a herd of cows struggling to cope with high somatic cell counts (SCC).

And until six or seven years ago, it wasn't a problem for the Cody's either. Along with his dad (also Joe), they milked about 70 cows that were all bred to a beef bull, while heifer replacements were bought in.

However, over the course of a year, the SCCs started to fluctuate to the point where they were regularly hitting 400-500,000 - penalty territory that no dairy farmer wants to be.

Joe knew he had a problem - the question was what was it and, more importantly, how could it be fixed.

None of the cows were showing up clots in the milk, nor was there any tell-tale signs in the milk sock. In fact, every cow was stripped before the cups went on, morning and night.

So Joe's instinct was that there was a problem with stray current in the milking parlour, which had only been installed in 2007.

"I got the installer out to look at it probably three times, but every time he drew a blank. He was getting frustrated and, if I'm honest, I was beginning to doubt him," Joe admits.

"I was also doing DIY milk recording, and when the results would come back, there might be a few cows that were high in cell count that we'd pull out of the tank and treat. We'd do a California Milk Test and everything would be fine for a few months, and then we'd find that she was testing high again."

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Meanwhile, Joe was barely escaping Glanbia penalties by keeping his SCC's below the 375,000 threshold (it is now 350,000), largely by dumping milk from problem cows. And yet he was doing everything in his power to produce top quality milk.

"We were going above and beyond with our cleaning regime, which was borne out by the fact that our TBCs (total bacterial counts) were running from just 2,000-5,000. And yet I'd read in the paper each week about lads milking anything from 50 to 500 cows who seemed to be cruising along with SCCs at 100,000-150,000.

"It was such a frustrating period. The cows were all perfectly healthy to look at. We were doing our living best, but there was this invisible problem. It'd be on your mind day and night to be honest about it," says the soft spoken Kilkenny farmer.

Thankfully, Joe's situation turned around last June, when his local detergent supplier, Dairy Direct's Kathryn Kenneally suggested that Joe try a new gadget that would be able to analyse SCC and, crucially, the pathogen responsible - all within a 40 second test using an app on his iPhone.

The kit is known as the rather uncatchy RT10, and was developed in Canada last year. It is effectively a magnifying lens that slips onto the camera on the phone.

By popping a slide containing a milk sample into the device, it is able to recognise and count the mastitis causing bacteria in less than a minute. Developers of the technology claim that it is only the first step in a host of functions that the device will be capable of, with more functions in the pipeline.


However, it does not come cheap, costing €2,000 for the hardware, another €17 for the software, and over €2 per sample for the slides used.

While Joe initially couldn't justify the outlay for the RT10, the remarkable turn-around that it facilitated in his herd health convinced him that he simply couldn't afford not to have one on the shelf.

"Within a week or two we had the SCC down to about 120,000. Basically, the gadget was able to show immediately that two cows were carrying Staph Aureus - a type of mastitis that not only had a very low cure rate, but it also was a strain that had 'legs' - it didn't need water to jump from cow to cow. The two cows in question looks absolutely fine, but I culled them. About four others became three-titters for the rest of the season," he said.

Joe also went on a treatment blitz of any problem cows, with almost a third of the herd getting one of variety of intra-mammary tubes. However, this time they were all matched to the specific type of infection that each cow was carrying.

Today his cell count is often below 100,000, and Joe is getting a good night's sleep again. "I'm convinced that we bought in the problem in the replacement cows years ago. Because it was so virulent, we weren't able to keep on top of it. Our advisor even convinced us to stop stripping the cows, for fear that the milk-splash was spreading the bug around," he said.

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