Winning the war on high somatic cell count
Evans Dairy recognized for herd’s milk quality
PIPESTONE, Minn. – Dairy farmers battle with high somatic cell counts. But, Evans Dairy has experienced a good deal of success in its war against high SCC.
Jim and Mary Evans and their son, Justin, milk 100 registered Holsteins on their farm near Pipestone. Associated Milk Producers Inc. has given the Evanses an award for their low SCC every year for the past 15 years. In 2021, their average SCC for the entire year clocked in at a mere 78,000.
The Evanses milk their cows 28 head at a time in a stanchion barn that is well over 100 years old. The barn features timber framing with mortice and tenon joints that are held together with hand-carved wooden pegs. The two rows of stanchions in the barn were originally installed sometime in the 1940s.
The Evanses’ lactating cows are housed in a well-lit, naturally ventilated freestall barn. The free stalls, which are bedded with generous amounts of clean, dry sand, have ample room for mature Holstein cows.
Cows and heifers that are close to calving are kept in a nearby loafing shed that has a deep and comfortable bedding pack made of corn stalks.
The low SCC at the Evanses’ dairy farm has not been achieved at the expense of milk production.
“Some of our cows are giving over 140 pounds of milk per day,” Jim said. “We really should be milking our herd three times a day, but we just don’t have the time for it.”
Attention to detail is one of the keys to the Evanses’ SCC success.
“Keeping the free stalls clean is extremely important,” Jim said. “We add fresh sand every few days. Some of our higher producing cows leak milk when their udders get full during the last few hours before milking time. This makes keeping the free stalls clean and dry even more critical. I pay special attention to the rear sections of the free stalls to ensure that the udders remain as clean as possible.”
If a problem arises, the Evanses culture the milk to determine if a cow is fighting mastitis.
“Culturing the milk enables us to use the most effective antibiotic if we feel that we need to treat for mastitis,” Mary said. “If we know that a particular quarter on a cow has a high SCC, we will milk that quarter separately and feed the milk to our bull calves.”
A sound dry cow program is essential to maintaining a low SCC.
“We dry treat all of our cows at dry-off and use Orbeseal to seal the teat ends,” Mary said. “This has made a big difference in preventing mastitis during their next lactation.”
The Evanses house their dry cows in an open front loafing shed. The cows’ feed bunks are on cement slabs, and the shed has a deep bedding pack made of baled corn stalks.
“We make sure that our dry cows are always kept clean, dry and comfortable,” Mary said. “We pay as much attention to the comfort of the dry cows as the lactating animals.”
For the past couple of years, the Evanses have been giving their cows Bovikalc boluses at dry-off.
“Bovikalc helps the udder adjust to being dry and makes it easier for the udder to come back into lactation,” Mary said. “Anything that reduces stress is a good thing.”
The battle against SCC commences as soon as a heifer calf is born. The Evanses ensure newborn calves receive two feedings of high-quality colostrum.
“Their first meal is Lifeline powdered colostrum,” Mary said. “I can mix the powder any time of the day or night without the hassle of warming up stored colostrum. After their first feeding, the calves get everything that their mother produces. We never feed mastitis milk to our heifer calves. We want to prevent any possibility of exposing them to mastitis bacteria.”
Calves are kept in huts that always have plenty of clean, dry bedding.
“We want to get the calves accustomed to lying on clean bedding,” Mary said.
Overpopulating the freestall barn is something that never happens at Evans Dairy.
“If you have too many animals for the number of free stalls, the heifers won’t have any place to lie,” Mary said. “We train our fresh heifers to lie in the free stalls. This sometimes means putting a halter on them and tying them in a free stall until they lie down.”
The Evanses’ battle against a high SCC reaches much deeper than their cows’ environment.
“When we pick out sires, we look for bulls who have daughters that have superior udders,” Mary said. “A sound udder is a healthy udder. We have also been using some polled genetics and have been getting about a dozen polled calves per year. Dehorning is stressful for the animal at any age. Anything we can do to reduce stress for our animals is good for the herd and helps lower our SCC.”
The benefits of maintaining a low SCC can be seen with each milk check.
“AMPI pays us a premium for quality milk,” Jim said. “A major factor in high quality milk is a low SCC.”
“Healthy cows are happy cows,” she said. “Healthy cows also last longer in the herd, which helps reduce our need for replacement animals. But most importantly, happy cows give more milk.”