Putting lessons to use: UNH CREAM has shockingly low somatic cell count

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by Hannah Majewski

The University of New Hampshire CREAM (Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management) students are setting an example for the New Hampshire dairy industry. Recent monthly dairy herd improvement results show a 30,000 cells/mL somatic cell count for the herd. This is an incredible feat, and the class should be proud of their accomplishments. The CREAM herd is housed in the same barn as the UNH research herd at the Fairchild Dairy Center. Both herds average less than 35,000 cells/mL SCC.

CREAM is a hands-on class, where students take the lead in a “flipped classroom” setting. Milk quality has been a priority of this class, and it shows in the test results. The 25 students take turns throughout the week milking their herd of registered Holstein cattle. Before CREAM, many students are introduced to milk quality through coursework. Classes like “Lactation Physiology” or “Dairy Cattle Disease Seminar” discuss the physiology of how milk is made and how to keep cows healthy to optimize production. It’s not until students enter the CREAM program that they get to put their lessons to use.

For a dairy farmer, this may sound like a terrible idea. On a commercial farm, there may be a couple of employees trained to milk the herd to stay consistent. Twenty-five “employees” leaves room for a lot of error and a lack of consistency. With careful training from the UNH Fairchild Dairy Farm management team, the CREAM students are taught a strict set of milking procedures, mitigating the chance of a high SCC.

The entire UNH herd has strict protocols in place to ensure a low SCC. All the cows’ stalls are cleaned twice a day and limestone is spread in them to reduce bacteria and moisture. Kiln-dried sawdust is then used as bedding. In the parlor, cows are fore stripped, pre- and post-dipped, all milkers wear gloves and the machines have an automatic take-off setting to exclude human error in deciding when a cow is done milking. Additionally, cows are treated at dry off with Spectromast and placed far away from the parlor.

The UNH Diagnostic Lab is also used extensively to test when signs of mastitis arise, and there is a strict cull rate for any cows presenting with Staph aureus mastitis (which has no cure). If a cow does contract mastitis, it’s treated with antibiotics as soon as possible (usually with Spectromast, Persue or Today). This combination has created a healthy environment for the cows to keep the SCC low.

Jon Whitehouse, manager of the UNH Fairchild Dairy Center, noted this combination of management techniques is what keeps the cows healthy. “I’m always proud of our milk quality and UNH, and truthfully, sometimes I don’t know how it happens,” he said. “In reality we strive for consistency in our procedures, and stress that onto the students and staff that come and work here.”

Milk quality can be judged based on the SCC of the herd. A high SCC is a sign of infection in the udder because of white blood cells rushing to the area in need. Mastitis is a common sign of infection and can usually be treated with antibiotics. This can be costly to a dairy farm because that cow’s milk cannot be sold until the withholding period has passed and the antibiotic residue is no longer present in the cow’s system.

Making money as a dairy farmer can be difficult and improving milk quality is one way to optimize profits on the farm. If a farm has a below-average SCC, they are eligible for a premium through the co-op they sell their milk to. UNH sells its milk to DFA, and the milk is processed at the H.P. Hood Plant in Concord, NH.

Many co-ops have set their SCC premium limit to 100,000 cells/mL. The federal limit for the highest SCC is 750,000 cells/mL to sell milk, but most co-ops have a higher standard for their milk and have set their ceiling at 400,000 cells/mL.

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