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Form expert team to solve SCC woes

Teamwork is defined as "the work or co-ordinated effort of a group of people to produce a desired result or a common goal".

Nowhere is this as important as when dealing with mastitis or a somatic cell count (SCC) issue. The team may consist of:

  • The farming family;
  • Veterinary surgeons;
  • Milking machine technician;
  • Teagasc adviser and/or nutritionist adviser;
  • Co-op technical adviser.

The advantages of a team approach is that, firstly, it ensures all expertise that can make a positive contribution is involved and, secondly, members of the team will motivate each other and create necessary deadlines for actions.

Historically farmers may have thrown darts at the cell count problem, such as changing a teat dip, introducing a new dry cow tube or more commonly 'earthing' the machine to prevent any stray voltage driving cows and the SCC mad. Success with this approach has been absent or short-lived at best, and we have found it more appropriate to segment the problem and examine three major components: the milking machine, the milking routine and the cow, and the bug and the environment (diagram, right).

The SCC team needs to define the extent of the problem and any improvements they might achieve. Milk recording and ICBF analysis offer such a tool.

These ICBF reports help decide what groups or clusters of animals within the herd are affected. Is it the freshly calved heifers or is it the older cows in late lactation that are the worst affected? There is plenty of work to be done in these herds.

The cost to the farm of a high cell count problem -- including penalties, loss of production, loss of milk yield and use of medicines -- is huge. For a 100-cow herd with a cell count problem of a rolling 400,000 cells/ml the cost is estimated at around €24,000 per annum. Spending money on prevention is a no brainer.

Milking Machine

Of all the equipment on a dairy farm, the milking machine by far does the most work. The machine technician is a key member of our team. As a vet, some considerable time is spent in the parlour sampling high-cell-count cows for bacteriology.

As a regular observer of milking machine functions the common issues seem to be:

  • Liners and short milk tubes are not in good condition, the inside of the liner having a pitted surface with bands of 'milk tartar that provides both food and a cavernous hiding place for bacteria. Furthermore, the internal surface with its 'caked make-up' appearance has lost its elasticity, so such a clapped-out liner is very slow to milk the cows out. Indee, farmers regularly report a reduced milking time after a liner change.
  • The vacuum pump is either too small, without enough capacity -- often a power issue -- and the occasional unit falls off, or if two milkers apply clusters simultaneously, the milking machine drone dips and then recovers. The vacuum gauge needle flickers. Liner slips and fall-offs are excessive.
  • Over-milking both at cluster application, where there is a huge delay before milk flows, or -- especially -- after milking, before removal of where the cow is finished milking, and yet liners massage vigorously at the teat without milk as a sort of lubricant.

Even with automatic cluster removers (ACRs) it's key that they are set correctly so as not to over- or under-milk.

  • The vacuum regulator and relays are blocked or dusted up. Pulsation ratios and speed are out of kilter.

Recently a farmer with a 200-cow herd and 14-unit parlour realised that liner change was necessary every 2.5 months to adhere to an approximate 2,000 milkings per liner change. Previous to this he had been changing his liners every six months, thereby exposing teats to a twice-daily, bug- infested massage with 'dish cloth' rubber.

Irish Independent