High cell counts – a long fight is won…
Achieving top quality
milk bands is
Jessica Buss kicks
off our Milk Quality &
Hygiene special with
a look at
management of one
HIGH cell counts are a thing of the past on one Norfolk dairy unit.
After five years hard work last years count average was kept below 150,000/ml and results are now between 40,000 and 80,000.
Herdsman Keith Hands started work at M and R Websters Bolwick Hall Farm, Marsham, Norwich, six years ago. At that time cell counts were over 500,000/ml and TBCs moved between band A and B for the 90-cow herd, now averaging 6500 litres on a high forage system.
"We improved parlour hygiene straight away. Hot water was not reaching the far end of the parlour, so a new boiler was installed and some changes made in the parlour. TBCs were reduced immediately and Bactoscans are now consistently below 10," he says.
His Axient mastitis consultant, Debbie Gilks, says keeping Bactoscans consistently below 20 is good, but few milkers achieve results regularly below 10.
Cell counts, however, have taken longer to reach the top band for milk price premiums. But without improvements in cell counts and hygiene quality it would have been difficult for the farm to produce milk economically today, says Ms Gilks.
Mr Hands began his fight with cell counts through culling, identifying persistently high cells count cows from milk records.
But he could only cull cows that would be replaced by heifers coming into the herd. That meant culling only 10 to 12 cows a year for high cell count.
From 1993, Mr Hands continued to follow a diligent milking routine: Washing each cows teats, stripping foremilk and drying carefully with a fresh piece of paper towel, before putting on the cluster. Ms Gilks advises dry wiping is preferable to washing on most farms, because it is often more hygienic.
After milking, cows are teat dipped. In summer, he uses a disinfectant dip with fly repellent and in winter one with iodine. Each morning, cows wait in the feed yard before going on to the freshly bedded straw yard. Round bales are unrolled and spread with a fork.
Ms Gilks believes straw yards are more difficult to keep clean than cubicles, but may be more comfortable than some cubicles.
She stresses the importance of using good quality, dry straw. "A poor batch of straw allows environmental bacteria to flourish."
Yards also need frequent cleaning out. At Bolwick Hall, they are routinely cleaned out every three weeks.
Ventilation has been improved by installing space boarding all round the building. Airflow is adequate, but Ms Gilks would like to see more ventilation in the roof acting as an outlet for stale air.
Mr Hands has also been using a California Milk Test (CMT) kit to detect sub-clinical mastitis. When a cow has a high cell count at recording, the CMT can identify which quarter is infected. A reagent is added to the milk from each quarter which thickens when sub-clinical mastitis is present. Once infected quarters are identified they can be treated or a sample taken for bacteriology, he adds.
Ms Gilks says a CMT is good for identifying cell counts above 400,000/ml when trying to reduce counts. But for a young cow with a count above 200,000, bacteriology to identify the bugs may be more beneficial.
"Occasional bacteriology of clinical mastitis cases is also useful to identify which types of bugs are in the herd," she says.
Big improvements in cell count levels have been realised in the past two years since installing a new parlour, extending the straw yard building and putting in a concreted feed area, says Mr Hands.
"The new parlour has improved electronic pulsation, with bigger claw bowls removing milk from the cow more quickly and a better vacuum reserve," says Mr Hands. It is also faster because it is a 7:14 herringbone, which replaces a 5:10 herringbone.
Counts are now between 40,000 and 80,000/ml and should average below 100,000 this year. He now feels his efforts have been worthwhile, and the new parlour and yard improvements have tackled the cause of the problem.
"But it is hard to keep on top of cell counts. You only need to put milk from a single cow with mastitis in the tank and to be tested that day and the average count will increase," he says.
Ms Gilks says clinical mastitis cases in the herd have also reduced, with just eight cases in a six-month period to July, much fewer than in the previous year.
Fewer cases of mastitis reduces stress on the milker during milking, says Mr Hands.
He is keen to maintain low cell counts. Next years target is to keep below 100,000/ml for the whole year. Providing Bactoscan readings, which average about 10, are also maintained below 30, he should receive an Axient Silver Milk Quality and Hygiene Award to join the Bronze award he won this year.
FIGHTING HIGH CELL COUNTS
• Cull persistently high cell count cows.
• Follow diligent milking routine.
• Use dry cow therapy.
• Improve parlour and housing.
• Set targets and keep to them.
Debbie Gilks says straw yards, such as those managed by Keith Hands at Bolwick Hall Farm, must be bedded with quality straw and regularly cleaned out.
The California milk test kit has helped detect sub-clinical mastitis, says Keith Hands.