Manitoba dairy farmers will see a sharp reduction in allowable somatic cell count limits for milk next year.
The maximum allowable somatic cell count (SCC) will be lowered to 399,000 from the current 499,000, effective Aug. 1, 2012.
The change shouldn’t affect most producers much, if at all. Manitoba’s current SCC average is 265,000, according to Dairy Farmers of Manitoba.
But some producers may have to pull up their socks because a few occasionally get penalized for exceeding SCC limits, said Brent Achtemichuk, DFM general manager.
“It’s very rare but it does happen,” Achtemichuk said.
SCC is an indicator of both milk quality and possible health problems in a dairy herd.
Somatic cells are leukocytes, or white blood cells, shed naturally in a cow’s milk. A cow’s immune system secretes white blood cells to stop bacteria from building up in her system.
SCC is measured by the number of cells per ml.
A low SCC generally indicates good cow health. A high SCC indicates the presence of infection, usually mastitis.
Achtemichuk said the new SCC limit results from a resolution at the 2010 Dairy Farmers of Canada policy conference to reduce the SCC regulated maximum level in all provinces to 399,000 by 2012.
Lowering the SCC maximum will have a positive impact on herd production and continue to ensure high-quality dairy products, DFM said.
The European Union, New Zealand and Australia already adhere to the 399,000 limit.
Manitoba usually does not have an SCC problem in winter because the cold weather keeps bacteria populations under control, said Rob Berry, a Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives dairy specialist.
But SCC counts often rise in summer, partly because warm, wet bedding is an ideal medium for the bacteria that cause mastitis infections, Berry said.
At times, SCC counts can rise to 499,000 and above, depending on the producer, he said.
“There are some farmers who are above current penalty levels at certain times of the year,” said Berry.
“Some producers like to fly quite close to the line. Some producers like to stay comfortably under that penalty level.”
Producers’ milk bulk tanks are checked regularly for SCC levels. Achtemichuk said the first time a producer goes over 499,000, he is warned. The second time, he is penalized $3/ hl. Penalties for repeat offences continue to rise by $1/hl until the fifth infraction within a 12-month rolling period. At that point, the producer is penalized $7/hl and no milk is picked up until the SCC problem is under control.
For the 2012-13 dairy year, penalties will apply for violations above the 399,000 level. But for that year only, milk shutoff will not occur unless all five violations are above 499,000, the same as before, Achtemichuk said.
This is to give producers a one-year transition period to get used to the new standard, he said.
While mastitis, as evidenced by SCC levels, is not a chronic problem in most dairy herds, producers need to be constantly on their guard against it, said Berry.
“It potentially affects every farmer if they don’t put management strategies in place to deal with mastitis cows.”
Berry outlined several strategies for preventing mastitis. They include: maintaining good hygiene; keeping cows in a clean, dry environment; properly maintain milk equipment so it doesn’t transmit bacteria; properly managing dry cows; culling chronic cases. [email protected]
– BRENT ACHTEMICHUK, DFM