News & Advice

Milk production is up but is cell count letting you down?

Oct 7, 2021 | Dairy, Milk Quality

Emma Franklin, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets 

We all know there are many reasons for you to keep your bulk tank somatic cell count (BTSCC) as low as possible. Lower BTSCC means fewer infected cows, better animal welfare, higher pay-out (if you qualify for your dairy company’s incentive scheme) and increased milk production…..the list of benefits goes on and on.

We also know that the BTSCC you achieve during peak milk production is a really good indicator for the rest of the season. The graph below shows the trends of BTSCC of Fonterra suppliers, grouped by district. All districts follow a similar pattern as the BTSCC drops fairly steadily from calving in July for a few months, then it plateaus around peak milk production (September to November) and rises again until late lactation. For example, on the graph, ‘Morrinsville’ farms (dark blue line) had an average BTSCC of 184,000 cells/ml in July 2019, dropping to 116,000 cells/ml in October and rising to 203,000 cells/ml in April 2020. The dotted line represents an “Example herd”; the graph shows this herd sitting at 170,000 cells/ml in October and by following the same pattern as all the district averages, they end up at 275,000 cells/ml in late lactation. Does this sound familiar?


So, ask yourself two questions: “Where is my herd now?” and “Is it where I need it to be?”

While acknowledging that each farm is different in the detail, we can see from these trends that BTSCC almost doubles from its lowest point of the season to the highest point. This means, if you are not meeting your BTSCC targets now, you will find it very hard to ‘catch up’ and meet your targets later on……unless you make some changes now.  If your cell count is not where you want it to be right now, consider the following:

  • Milk samples – sterile milk samples from high cell count cows can help identify which bacteria are causing infections, and in turn, where these infections are coming from (e.g. environment, cow-to-cow spread, incorrect teat spraying technique).
  • Herd test – if you haven’t done a herd test yet this season, consider booking one now. 
  • Milking visit – have an accredited mastitis specialist (we have several at Anexa) assess the cow/machine interactions during milking. A wet test is far more sensitive at identifying issues than the milking machine test done during winter when the herd was dry.
  • Teat spray – now is a good time to review the team’s teat spraying protocols and techniques as well as general milking practices. 

Talk to your local Anexa vet or ask for a referral to one of our milk quality specialists, to discuss which strategies are likely to work best on your farm to get you back on track to make sure you are set to reap the rewards of your hard work.  


CLICK HERE for information and resources regarding our milk quality services.

Share This