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Somatic cell count impacts everything

Today’s dairy industry is challenging. It takes business sense, strong instincts, dairy know-how, innovation and continuous improvement to succeed. Labor, health management, reproductive efficiencies and genetics are just a short, but critical, list of things that demand your attention and offer tremendous opportunities for improvement. What if you could prioritize the items that will have the greatest impact on your profitability?

To help you do just that, Zoetis and Compeer Financial analyzed 11 years of herd data from 489 year-end financial and production record summaries,1* resulting in six factors that drive profitability on a dairy. Management of these factors will have the biggest impact on your bottom line.

One driver of net farm income the study identified is the impact of somatic cell count (SCC), as it is an indicator of overall performance, management and animal husbandry. Elevated SCC was associated with lower milk production, reduced pregnancy rates and greater death losses, according to the study.

SCC touches nearly every part of your dairy. Its wide-ranging impact on your operation means lowering SCC provides an excellent opportunity to increase profit.

The low-SCC profit opportunity

The best-third of herds in our study had a bulk tank SCC average of 132,000 cells/mL. Meanwhile, the worst one-third of herds had a bulk tank SCC average of 284,000 cells/mL. This difference in SCC was associated with an 11-pound difference in milk per cow per day, adding up to $159 in net farm income per cow.1*

As you can see, there wasn’t much difference between the bulk tank SCC averages of top- and low-performing herds. This indicates that 200,000 SCC is not low enough as an industry standard. In the study, 5.5 pounds per cow per day was lost with every 100,000-cell increase in bulk tank SCC.

Knowing this, the long-term impact of cell counts at the accepted standard of 200,000 can be very expensive. To combat this, the challenge is to set a lower goal to reduce your SCC to 150,000 or even 100,000.

Is 100,000 SCC even possible?

Based on the above results, aggressively managing SCC to push levels below 200,000 can help drive profitability on your dairy. The key to keeping SCC levels in check is through a proactive and thorough monitoring program, preventing new infections in the dry period, and reducing your overall risk of mastitis.

  1. Keep SCC in check — Without a management strategy that includes actively monitoring individual cow SCC and new infections, you are taking a financial risk. Make sure you know your levels and have protocols in place for identifying mastitis pathogens and treating them.
  2. Prevent new infections — Coliform intramammary infection rate is about four times greater during the dry period than during lactation.2 When going into the dry period, make sure your protocols are both tailored to clear up existing infections and prevent new ones. Implement a dry cow treatment program that includes a broad-spectrum tube, a proven internal teat sealant and vaccination against coliform infections.
  3. Reduce mastitis risk — One way to lessen the financial impact of mastitis is to reduce the risk of it occurring. Genomic testing with CLARIFIDE® Plus can help you identify which animals are most likely to not get sick in the first place. This has been proven with first- and second-year results from a field study that show cows in the best 25% of a herd based on their respective genetic trait herd rankings had 47% fewer cases of mastitis.3 Effectively, those cows in the top quartile need half as many mastitis tubes, they have half as much discarded milk, and they spend half the number of days in the hospital pen when compared with the cows in the bottom quartile.

The big impact of lower SCC

SCC impacts almost every aspect of your dairy, so it is important to think beyond the risk of mastitis when thinking about SCC. This is a critical shift in mindset, not because of the premiums that are paid based on SCC levels, but because of the impact high SCC has on key factors that drive profit.

The study showed high SCC is associated with reduced reproductive performance and increased days open. This is due to the negative physiological effect high SCC levels have on a cow’s reproductive system. Lower reproductive performance means lower net farm income and, ultimately driving up replacement costs and driving down profit.

Elevated SCC levels were also associated with higher rates of death loss. A broader review of the data shows that this is not necessarily due to mastitis alone, but rather cows in herds with elevated SCC are being lost for many reasons. So SCC is really a measure of overall animal husbandry skills. Dairies that manage SCC well are generally better at managing all types of animal health risk.

Elevated cell counts are associated with producing less energy-corrected milk and higher net herd turnover costs. Herds with higher turnover rates have more younger cows. Milking a larger percentage of younger cows results in less production and fewer pounds of milk shipped per day, ultimately driving up replacement costs and driving down profit.

Managing SCC to push levels as low as possible presents a large opportunity to improve your long-term profitability. Learn more about strategies to aggressively manage SCC and contact your Zoetis representative to discuss how the dairy financial drivers can be applied on your dairy.

Curious about the other five dairy financial drivers? Read this overview and watch for more information.


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