News & Advice

Maximising milk in the vat while keeping on top of somatic cell count and managing body condition

Feb 3, 2024 | Dairy, Dairy Farm Reproduction, Milk Quality

Many Anexa clients want to milk as long as possible but heading into autumn milk volumes are dropping and bulk milk somatic cell count (BMSCC) is starting to climb. Some farms are at a high risk of grading with once-a-day (OAD) milking whilst others may have a higher-than-expected BMSCC or a fluctuating BMSCC.

So, what can we do to manage BMSCC through late lactation into dry off?

Milk sample high somatic cell count and mastitis cows
Milk sampling your mastitis cows, as well as high somatic cell count (SCC) cows identified from RMT or herd testing, can be very valuable and useful in managing BMSCC. The bacteria identified from milk samples can indicate which risk factors for infection may be involved, and therefore what area to hone in on to manage it. For example, a high level of CNS bacteria may be seen with suboptimal teat spraying practices.

Watch low milk volumes
Monitor milk volumes at both a herd level and an individual cow level. Putting cows on once-a-day (OAD) can initially double BMSCC but it should drop back to a lower level over the following week. This may increase grading risk though, e.g. if a herd is already over 200,000 cells/ml then OAD could lead to grading. This also applies to drying off; if you are using OAD milking as tool at dry off, it is preferable to milk the herd OAD for a week prior to drying off rather than just two days prior so there is time for the SCC to settle again before drying off cows.

Consider culling cows with chronically high SCCs and/or repeat mastitis
Cows that have had high SCC’s over more than one lactation which have not dropped down over the previous dry period despite treatment with Dry Cow Therapy, are unlikely to cure with any further dry cow treatment. If you are keeping cows like this it’s worth milk sampling them to see if they have contagious bacteria present and are a risk to other cows. The same applies to repeat mastitis cows. Cows having had three cases or more during a season are unlikely to cure.

Continue to practice vigilant teat spraying
Make sure you are using an appropriate mix for your level of mastitis risk, that you are mixing it up fresh (every 2-3 days – not once a week), that all parts of the teats are covered (the fronts of the fronts are very often missed) and that you apply enough of it. To reduce new infections the recommendation is 20ml a cow per milking for handheld application. For automatic teat sprayers, the amount used needs to be higher. Make sure your automatic sprayer is actually spraying each cow, covering the teats and is serviced regularly as it can be surprising how many cows are inadequately sprayed sometimes. Wrapping a clean paper towel around a freshly sprayed teat and checking the pattern of teat spray on the paper is a quick and easy way to check if full coverage is being achieved.

Avoid using lots of water on udders during milking
While this may be a tempting method to cool cows during this hot period, it can result in bacteria from the skin running down the udder to the teat tip. Vacuum applied at cups on then can carry bacteria into the teat and udder. Hosing may also splash water contaminated with faecal material up onto teats and udders so try to hose between rows rather than when cows are rowed up or as they walk in or out.

Check the machine and plant are performing well
Teat health and therefore mastitis risk can be influenced by many factors including liner type, system vacuum and pulsation. Anexa can perform a milking visit to assess these things to clarify the level of teat damage and whether these factors may be contributing to new infections in the herd. Often the liners are due for a change now (2500 milkings) so check your numbers!

Ensure your cows have plenty of water to drink. Check troughs and keep on top of maintenance. As many herds are on 16 hourly or OAD milking you shouldn’t rely on a drop in milk volume to indicate a problem with the water supply. We recently had a client with pump problems and the milking cows didn’t have access to enough drinking water for longer than ideal – with the heat at the moment, it is essential to have plenty of water available at all times.

Talk to your vet if you have concerns about your BMSCC or high SCC cows

Anexa has vets trained and accredited in milk quality and grade busting that are here to help. Your vet can help you make a plan with these high SCC cows during your milk quality consult.


Consider Body Condition Score (BCS) when choosing dry off dates

Milking later in the season can affect your herd’s reproductive performance – it’s not too early to start thinking about drying off your lighter cows.

Most of you will know the body condition score (BCS) targets at calving of 5.0 for mixed age (MA) cows and 5.5 for first and second calvers (R3yo). These are not just nice targets to achieve. They should be the aim of every farmer at this time of year and a number of studies have shown that reaching these targets will maximise milk production and reproduction potential.

Cows struggle to gain significant condition while still milking, so it is important to dry cows off early enough to allow them time to reach target condition score. Of course, it is also important not to dry off cows too early that don’t need as much time to reach target. The key is knowing which cow should be dried off when.

Many of our vets are accredited body condition score assessors and can visit your herd to do whole herd individual body condition scoring during milking (or at a separate time, if you prefer). By combining the body condition score of each cow with her individual predicted calving date, we are able to generate a report for you to detail when each cow should be dried off in order to achieve target body condition at calving.

For further advice on managing your herd through late summer into dry off book your milk quality consult with your vet. Planning now will set you up nicely for next season.


Anexa resources you might find helpful:

Individual Body condition scoring.pdf

How to take a milk sample. pdf 

How to get the most of of your milk quality consult

Milk samples – when should you send samples to the lab?

Getting the most out of your milk quality consult


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