RELAXED CELL count bands, with some milk buyers allowing 250,000 cells/ml, could be a factor in the rise in recent cell count results, but there could still be benefits from aiming for a lower target.

NMR figures from August to October show cell count results are up to 4% higher, while November’s rolling average of 208,870 cells/ml has crept up by almost 10% from last year’s 190,790 cells/ml.

Cell count bands were too tight, says mastitis vet Peter Edmondson of Somerset-based Shepton Vet Group. But he sees no reason why herds shouldn’t be below 150,000, as they would make huge savings with fewer culls due to high cell counts and produce more milk of better quality.

Producers would also benefit from finding out their rate of clinical mastitis and setting targets for 2005. “Far too many haven’t a clue whether they have a low or high clinical incidence. Even when cell counts and Bactoscans are okay, it still affects profitability.”

One of his concerns is that labour issues will have an increasing impact on cell counts. “Many producers are increasing herd size, but labour is tricky to get, so they employ who they can. Unfortunately, not everyone knows what best practice is,” he explains.

Herd expansion could well be having a year on year effect on cell counts, believes Devon-based vet Andrew Biggs of Vale Vet Lab. “Whatever herd size, when trying to increase there is an incentive to keep cows which would otherwise have been culled. It is also harder for one person to give individual attention to more cows.”