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How can one monitor somatic cell counts in dairy cows?

High somatic cell count is a very costly issue in dairy farms. The economic impact can go up to 230 € / dairy cow / year. However, for farmers, the reduction of somatic cell counts in milk often means changing deep-rooted habits.

Why does the general somatic cell level currently tend to increase in France nowadays?

In dairy farms, the term ‘udder health’ refers to any infection affecting cows’ udders and somatic cell count in their milk. These criteria are used for evaluating the technical and economic efficiency of farms. Since 2004, the average somatic cellular count in French milk has deteriorated substantially. It has recently stabilized at a level close to 330,000 cells / ml. This apparent increase actually hides huge differences depending on the province, the cow breed and the seasons.

evolution somatic cell levels france pas 17 yearsThe winter months are more likely to lead to the emergence of mastitis. The reason lies in more humid climatic conditions and a higher concentration of animals in the buildings. From an economic point of view, the costs incurred by mastitis amount to 230 € / dairy cow / year. The average cost includes direct costs (veterinary expenses, milk losses, anticipated culling) and indirect costs such as milk revenue penalties and the resulting work overload.

From a technical point of view, a majority of farmers mention udder health issues as the primary cause for anticipated culling. The somatic cell count also affects milk production. Beyond 50,000 cells / ml, milk production decreases by 0.5 kg each time the amount of cells doubles.

What are the differences between clinical mastitis and subclinical mastitis?

expenses relating to mstitis dairy farms cow vet costs cullling milk lossesOverly high somatic cell counts usually stem from clinical mastitis and subclinical mastitis.

Clinical mastitis is characterized by inflammation of the udder and changes in milk appearance: milk clots and udder tissue (pain, inflammation and edema).

Subclinical mastitis results from a more or less strong inflammation of one or several mammary glands, yet this infection does not modify the appearance of milk.

In all cases, inflammation of the mammary tissue is triggered by the entrance of a microbe in the teat sphincter.

How is mastitis detected in dairy cows?

There are several relevant indicators in this respect:

  • Extracting milk streams into a dark-bottomed container can help monitor the aspect of milk. The California Mastitis Test (CMS) can give an idea about the approximate number of somatic cells in milk.
  • Milking robots in livestock farms can help us observe the milk’s level of conductivity. While this is a relevant parameter for a rough assessment of the degree of udder inflammation, the level of somatic cells in milk is useful for showing the extent of immune reaction triggered by clinical mastitis or subclinical mastitis.
  • From there, it is possible to help farmers have an overview of their cattle condition by applying a "grid of analysis" which indicates the thresholds of cases under control, the cases where vigilance is required, etc.
  • We can also determine the type of mastitis occurring by identifying the reservoir that triggered the infection: contagious or environmental. The environmental reservoir refers to the cow’s world. While the environmental reservoir is often at the origin of marked mastitis, the occurrence of contagious reservoir is rather manifested by unobtrusive signs. Yet the contagious reservoir can have long-term effects on the udder tissues.

There are many other causes to subclinical and clinical mastitis such as the way cows are fed and milked, their housing conditions, and the way these animals are dried off. Our experts can help you build a strategy tailored to your situation. Feel free to contact them!

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