September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Producers share insight on significant decrease in SCC

The Dairy Star staff visited with seven dairy farms. These producers had substantial decreases in herd somatic cell counts from the last three years. Below, the seven farms shared information about th

Dan Deml, 18 cows
Owatonna, Minn.; Steele County

Jim and Lance Larsen and Danielle Carlson, 80 cows
Oronoco, Minn.; Olmsted County

Richard Sorenson; 46 cows
Sunburg, Minn.; Kandiyohi County

Todd Lubbesmeier, 47 cows
Mayhew Lake, Minn.; Benton County

Jerry Smith; 27 cows
Turtle Lake, Wis.; Polk County

Sherri, Seth and Dale Rupprecht; Sherdale Farms
40 cows
Thief River Falls, Minn.; Marshall County

Salzer Dairy; Jerome, Jean and Terry Salzer; herdsman, Derek Schmitz; 120 cows
St. Joseph, Minn.; Stearns County

How much has your somatic cell count (SCC) dropped in the last three years?
Deml: About 400,000.
Larsens: We were around 400,000 three years ago, but now we usually range between 100,000 and 150,000.
Lubbesmeier: It was around 400,000 and now we are between 150,00 and 200,000.
Sherdale Farms: About 250,000.
Salzer Dairy: It has dropped 350,000.
Smith: Three years ago we were running around 450,000-500,000.
Sorenson: Three years ago it was around 300,000. I've dropped it to half that.

What is your current SCC?
Deml: Around 100,000.
Larsens: On our March 6 DHIA test, our herd averaged 149,000.
Lubbesmeier: 178,000
Sherdale Farms: In Dec. 2013 it was 140,000. It's currently 200,000. This winter was really hard on the cows being outside and we had our share of frostbite. We went through a lot of Frostshield to keep the teats soft and keep them from freezing.
Salzer Dairy: Last month our somatic cell count was 100,000.
Smith: 48,000
Sorenson: 150,000

What kind of barn do you have and what kind of bedding do you use?
Deml: The milking cows are housed in 14 tiestalls and the rest are in a bedded pack barn. When the herd was bigger, all of the cows used to be in the bedded pack barn, which first started as a compost barn using sawdust when we started using it in 2006. When the prices for sawdust got too high in 2008 and 2009, we made the barn into a bedded pack using chopped bean straw.
Larsens: We have a stanchion barn and bed with chopped straw during winter months. A portion of the herd is housed inside while half the milking herd spends part or all day on a cornstalk bedded pack outside. During the summer the cows are always out on pasture because we are a rotational grazing herd.
Lubbesmeier: We have a tiestall barn and the cows are bedded with straw or wood shavings. We are trying to switch to all wood chips. It seems like they stay cleaner and dryer with wood chips.
Sherdale Farms: We have a loose housing barn. We bed with wheat or barley straw. Cows are milked twice a day in a 21-stall barn.
Salzer Dairy: We have a tiestall barn and we bed with wood shavings.
Smith: A 40 cow tiestall barn. I bed with shredded newspaper.
Sorenson: I have a 38-cow tiestall barn. I also keep about 12 cows on a bedded pack outside. Those cows are usually too big for the stalls or have a hard time getting up in the barn. I bed the cows outside twice a day with cornstalk bales. The cows in the barn are bedded with chopped wheat straw.

What was the main reason behind
lowering your SCC?
Deml: The herd's SCC started to rise after retrofitting a parlor into the tiestall barn. It was starting to get into ranges we thought were unacceptable. It would also wildly fluctuate from day to day. We didn't have a lot of mastitis cows and SCC would be high even when the cows were out on dry pastures. We had no idea what was causing it. We found we had stray current. Both the stray current and the higher SCC affected cow health. We wanted healthy cows and quality milk.
Larsens: We were concerned after the European Union reduced their acceptable SCC level down to 400,000. At the time we were struggling to maintain that level.
Lubbesmeier: Three years ago my dad, Tom, had a stroke. I took over managing the herd and made a few changes. I switched from three to four units, tried to keep the cows cleaner and I started using the CMT paddle. It helps me weed out who has a hot quarter, and I will treat them accordingly. We started vaccinated all our cattle starting at 150 pounds.
Sherdale Farms: We wanted to be in compliance with the new SCC of 400,000.
Salzer Dairy: The main reason behind lowering our somatic cell count was to have healthier cows, less vet bills and to come in compliance with the new standards under 400,000.
Smith: We wanted healthier cows and a better quality of milk. Due to the low profit margin in dairying, the extra premium for the higher quality milk has really helped our farm financially.
Sorenson: I wanted to be more profitable and have healthier cows. I'm not treating as many cows as I used to and I'm not dumping as much milk.

What were three changes you made that assisted you in dropping your SCC?
Deml: It took more than one change to get the stray current under control. We fixed a problem with a ground on a waterer. It got better, but still didn't solve the problem. Then we found that amperage was coming from the power company line onto the equal potential plain in the parlor. We then put in an isolator. The problem got better, but again wasn't completely fixed. We did four-wiring to separate the grounds and neutrals, which helped a little more. We also found a problem with the fluorescent lights in the parlor. They were mounted directly on the parlor panels. The electromagnetic current was less than a foot from the cows, which was affecting them. We mounted the lighting fixtures to the ceiling instead of the parlor and converted to LED lights instead of fluorescent. This was a major help. Our SCC was finally starting to become more consistent and cows were rebounding; however, since this took place over the course of a few years, the health of the cows had decreased and it took them awhile to get back on track. Since selling more than half of the 50-cow herd last fall and keeping the milking cows in the remaining 14 tiestalls, SCC has dropped even more. I don't know if the bedded pack was the best place for the cows. Also, it's easier to manage any mastitis problems with fewer cows.
Larsens: The first has been dry treating all cows with Tomorrow tubes. We've found it aids in clearing up sub-clinical and clinical mastitis conveniently during the dry period. We cultured our entire herd and found that our chronic high SCC cows had Staph aureus. Any cows that failed to improve with treatment were culled, and we are still stricter on culling chronic cattle as a result from learning this. Our cows had poor teat ends as well, and we changed from a thick barrier dip that was accumulating on teats to a 1 percent iodine dip. We are more diligent about changing inflations on schedule. Also a newer, more modern pulsation system was installed a couple years ago and that made a dramatic difference. Our previous system was inefficient and was resulting in over milking and poor teat end health.
Lubbesmeier: Anytime we see an increase in somatic cell count we check for stray voltage right away. It could be a loose wires in a switch, a bad capacitor, or something wired wrong. Vaccinating and keeping the cows drier has also helped. We use a lot more lime underneath the cows. If you keep them dry and clean you get a response out of them.
Sherdale Farms: Using cloth towels. Using a good post-milking dip - we use Triumph from DeLaval. We have our equipment checked regularly by our Land O' Lakes fieldman, Rich Hanson. He has been a great asset to us as far as doing the equipment checks; if a problem starts to show, he is on it right away. We have also had good luck using Gold Spike from Priority One.
Salzer Dairy: We now use the California Mastitis Test (CMT) to find mastitis and high SCC and culture the high somatic cell cows. We culled out the chronic cows and we put more emphasis in prepping cows. We also had some stray voltage. We had incandescent light bulbs and took them out. We also had a lot of older outlets in the barns and we made sure all the outlets were grounded. We were running a lot of basket fans that were plugged into these outlets but they weren't grounded.
Smith: 1. We use dry cow treatment and Orbeseal on every cow at dry off. 2. Culling higher count cows sooner rather than later. 3. Focusing on cow comfort and cleanliness.
Sorenson: I adjusted my detachers so they come off the cows quicker, I switched my nutrition program and I'm not pushing my cows as much.

What kinds of benefits have you seen since reducing your SCC?
Deml: The cow health improved.
Larsens: We've saved milk from being dumped since we are treating fewer cows for mastitis. We now get premiums on our milk since lowering our SCC, unlike a few years ago when we had deductions because of milk quality. Our cows are milking more: on average five to 10 pounds per cow per day higher than when our SCC was higher (around 400,000).
Lubbesmeier: We like getting a better premium. It's always nice to have a little extra on the milk check. It's also important to know you are producing good, clean milk.
Sherdale Farms: Milk quality premiums and better overall udder health.
Salzer Dairy: There are several benefits we have seen since we dropped our somatic cell count. Our milk production is up, we get a premium now not a deduction and our cows are a lot calmer because when a cow has mastitis it's painful and they kick.
Smith: We have higher premiums for our milk. We have seen a reduction in vet bills. There are more pounds being shipped since there is no treated cow milk being discarded.
Sorenson: I've seen lower vet bills, a higher milk price with the quality milk premiums I'm receiving and I'm not having to cull cows at such a high rate anymore.

What advice do you have for someone who is trying to lower their SCC?
Deml: If you think you have stray voltage or current, hire a professionally trained consultant to talk to. Don't rely on the power company or even licensed electricians. I always found the best results from a consultant. Make sure to have a consultant like this come in before you plan to build or expand. They will be able to give you suggestions and identify concerns. This heads off a problem before it is created and saves you a lot of money in the long run. Also, it may take more than one fix on the farm to correct something that is wrong like stray voltage. It takes awhile to get the cows back on track.
Larsens: Find the real source of the problem. Our cows had Staph. aureus and poor teat ends. We culled the Staph cattle and worked to change many things until our teat ends got better. Only after installing the new pulsators did our SCC drop below 100,000. We were shocked. We knew our pulsators were acting up, but we didn't think they were the heart of our lingering SCC issues.
Lubbesmeier: Get a CMT paddle. You can really find out who's causing the SCC jump with that. Then you can do what you need to fix the problem.
Sherdale Farms: Don't get discouraged. Stick to a routine. Have your equipment checked regularly. The SCC will always go up faster than it comes down. If you are not on DHIA, we recommend you start. The monthly SCC report is a big help.
Salzer Dairy: The advice we can give to someone who is trying to lower their somatic cell count is to be patient and have determination because it doesn't happen overnight. You need to strip cows and start treating as soon as you see a problem. Also keep a treatment chart that allows you to keep track of each day for the treated cows and their treatment. This also helps so you don't end up with a load of milk with antibiotics in it, which needs to be dumped. Keeping the cows dry the best you can and burning their hair off the udders also helps with lowering SCC.
Smith: 1. Milk testing with DHIA. Our tester Todd Beaver has been instrumental in helping us keep our SCC under control. It helps you know which cows to focus your attention on. 2, Dry cow treatment and Orbeseal is a must. We wouldn't go without it. 3. Culling your high count cows sooner. Quality beats quantity.
Sorenson: There is no one correct answer to lowering SCC. A lot of times it's a combination of keeping the cows clean, proper nutrition and making sure your milking system is operating correctly. Don't underestimate the importance of keeping cows calm during milking. Milking should be a relaxing time for the cow or they won't milk out as well. If you've tried everything and you're not regularly testing your cows, you may want to take samples of suspect cows. In a small herd like mine, one cow with a high count could mess up your whole herd. Don't be afraid to ship a cow if you need to.

Tell us about your farm.
Deml: I am planning to retire this spring. To start planning for the transition, I sold a lot of my cows this past fall. Even if we hadn't had SCC problems, I would have started to look at retirement, since I'm 64 years old. This summer, my wife, Vicki, and I will move to town and our son and daughter-in-law, Matt and Missy, will move onto the farm. I will continue to crop farm. .
Larsens: We are three generations that work together. Jim doesn't work with the cows as much anymore, but is still a vital part of the crop work. Danielle recently returned to the farm after she received a dairy science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Our farm is on the outskirts of Rochester. With the work on the local roads last year, we have to build some fences along the right-of-ways in our cow pasture once the frost is out and the weather cooperates again.
Lubbesmeier: I milk 47 cows with the help of my parents, Rose and Tom. My mom helps take care of the calves and my dad helps with the feeding. I do most of the milking and fieldwork. I am currently buying the cows from my parents.
Sherdale Farms: Our farm consists of 500 acres and mostly Holsteins with a few Jerseys and Brown Swiss. We stopped using a TMR a couple of years ago so now the cows are fed grain twice a day and two different types of dry hay. In the summer, they are on pasture. We hope to continue to improve our operation over the coming years.
Salzer Dairy: We milk 120 cows and we raise our replacement heifers. We finish out 160 Holstein steers each year. We own and rent 750 crop acres of alfalfa and corn. We have two full-time employees and three part-time milkers. One of our full-time employees is our son, Terry. The other full-time employee, Derek, is our herdsman. He wants to start milking his herd and we are going to make room for that to happen. We will be able to keep our herdsman working for us. As a team effort we will keep striving for better quality in our cows.
Smith: Goals for the dairy this year: Well, the biggest goal has become rebuilding the dairy barn after it collapsed due to snow weight in January. We would also like to continue to grow our herd, eventually reaching 40 cows. We would also like to rent more land so we aren't buying so much feed.
Sorenson: I milk 46 cows and raise corn, wheat and alfalfa on 300 acres. I hope to make some improvements this year, but it depends on how the year goes.
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