22 November 1996


Better management has reduced milk cheque cell count penalties from £3400 to £120 a month on one farm. Our troubleshooter looks at how to reduce losses further. Emma Penny reports

Elizabeth Berry (left) and relief milker Debbie Baker discuss how cubicle dividing bars sloped from a high point at the back down to the front would increase cow lying space. New brisket boards should stop cows lying too far forward.

ACHIEVING cell counts below 200,000/ml is possible, but its hard work, and needs diligence and persistence.

So warned our troubleshooter, Genus vet Elizabeth Berry. She has been advising Edward Alderman since last July when cell counts were often over 600,000/ml. Now, they have fallen to about 260,000/ml, and Mr Alderman and his staff are keen to improve them further.

"Lower cell counts can only be achieved by nitty-gritty attention to detail. Producers often relax when counts fall to about 250, but thats always when they start to rise again," she warned.

Key attention has to be focused on the parlour, she urged, particularly as the easily-spread and highly-infectious Staph aureus is the main threat in this herd.

Although Miss Berry prefers teat dipping, Mr Alderman uses sprays because he believes they are more thorough. But our troubleshooter warned that it was not necessarily the case, and that he must ensure thorough coverage, at each and every milking.

"Sometimes, usually in the summer, teats were not always being dipped. Its crucial, particularly to combat Staph aureus. Frequent hand washing is vital – wearing gloves would be even better. And dipping clusters in hypochlorite solution between cows will also help, but I appreciate that its time consuming."

Regular six-monthly milking machine testing is essential, particularly as Mr Aldermans system uses liners, claws and shells from different manufacturers, making it tricky to achieve optimal pulsation.

"Replacing the rubberware with silicone – which is planned – will help hygiene standards as it will be easier to keep clean. Its also vital that Mr Alderman maintains the separate claw and dump bucket for infected cows as this will avoid passing on infection and avoid possible antibiotic failures."

Taking calves away from their mothers as soon as possible will reduce risk of infection. Currently, calves are removed after 24-48 hours, but Miss Berry would like this period to be even shorter. "Cross infection from calves sucking different cows can add to difficulties. Calves also tend to favour some one or two quarters, so the cow can be over- or under-milked too."

And continuing to use the California mastitis testing kit is vital to achieving a low count, she said. "It will give an immediate cell count result so that you can avoid putting that cows milk into the tank. Testing individual quarters also helps to identify problem ones for bacteriology. Maintaining clinical records is an essential part of a control programme."

Cows with persistent mastitis should continue to be culled, she advised. "I appreciate that it is difficult given the current situation, but they pose a continual risk to the herd, making reducing cell counts and avoiding new infections in clean cows even trickier."

Ensuring that the cubicle house and passages are cleaned during milking is vital said our troubleshooter. This was particularly so given that cows walk straight into the cubicle area after leaving the parlour. "Standing after milking allows the teat sphincter to close. Feeding after milking – which has been introduced – will help, but cleanliness is important."

Adjusting the fairly elderly wooden stalls will also improve hygiene. "Brisket boards have been introduced to stop cows lying too far into the cubicle. I would also like to see the removal of the headrail and the dividing bars being sloped from a high point at the back to a lower point in the front to increase lying space and reduce stress."

Recent concrete grooving at Washdyke Farm has reduced slipping, but ensuring that feet are trimmed regularly also helps to reduce stress and mastitis incidence.

Drying off techniques are important. "When drying off, wipe the cows with spirit beforehand, only partially insert the tube then teat spray or dip afterwards. Keep an eye on cows while they are dry – its important to prevent infection during the dry period."

And according to Miss Berry, persistance is the only way Mr Alderman and his staff will reduce cell counts.n

Elizabeth Berry suggests Edward Alderman replaces existing parlour rubberware with silicone which is easier to keep clean and hygienic.


&#8226 Keep good clinical records.

&#8226 Scrupulous hygiene.

&#8226 Ensure good teat spray coverage.

&#8226 Continue monitoring.

&#8226 Use dry cow therapy.

&#8226 Continue culling if possible.

&#8226 Adjust cubicles.

&#8226 Change to silicone.

&#8226 Minimise lameness.

&#8226 Spirit wipe before tubing.

&#8226 Diligence and persistence.

The Problem

Losses in milk cheque earnings ran at £3400 a month last year on 158ha (390-acre) Washdyke Farm, Stathern, Nottinghamshire, with somatic cell counts of 600,000/ml being common. Better management has reduced the count, cutting losses to only £122 for the August milk cheque.

So far, changes have been made within the herd by culling those cows with particularly high levels of Staph aureus infection. These were identified by using individual cow cell counts, the California mastitis test to isolate quarters, and then bacteriology. Better milking hygiene – particularly teat disinfection – has also helped, as has taking calves off the cow after 24-48 hours rather than 14 days. Regular milking machine checks have also improved pulsation.

However, farmer Edward Alderman is keen to reduce cell counts further and turn the milk cheque loss into a bonus, particularly as his buyer, Milk Marque, is introducing a super-banding next April for milk with a cell count below 150,000/ml. Mr Alderman, his manager George Rose and regular relief milker Debbie Baker are keen to reduce counts further in the 180-head Holstein Friesian herd.