How one farmer tackled somatic cell count with technology
Milking 80 cows in Gurteenorna, Co. Longford, Alastair Walsh decided to get to grips with somatic cell count on his farm last spring through the use of technology.
Alastair explained: “Last spring, SCC (somatic cell count) was on the rise and I was looking for solutions to solve it and I installed three Saber SCC units.
SCC was at 180,000-210,000 cells/ml last spring and since the installation of Saber SCC it has dropped to 41,000-72,000 cells/ml this spring.
“With Saber SCC, I’m more aware of problem cows earlier and I’ve been able to treat them then and there without waiting two months for milk sample results,” he noted.
The Longford-based farmer is currently milking in a 10-unit parlour and so three Saber SCC units were installed. As eight rows of cows pass through the parlour twice daily, this ensures that samples are tested from approximately 48 individual milkings each day.
Commenting on the success of Saber SCC on his farm, he said: “I’ve found that it works very well, especially when it comes to identifying cows after calving that may be suffering from a slight infection.
“The traffic light system is an extremely accurate indication that a cow is fit to go into the bulk tank or not. With Saber SCC, I’ve been able to identify problem cows earlier and, not only that, I’ve been able to reduce antibiotic usage.
“I really think the Department of Agriculture should make grant aid available to install the system under the Targeted Agricultural Moderinsation Scheme (TAMS).
“If installed on a widespread basis, it would be advantageous to dairy farmers and it would help to reduce the quantity of antibiotics being used at farm level,” he said.
About Saber SCC
Saber, a New Zealand company, has brought an innovative product to the Irish market to tackle Ireland’s mastitis problem.
The company’s Saber SCC is an automated, in-line sensor that provides users with live SCC results within two minutes of cupping the cow.
Saber’s Chris Murphy – the country manager for Ireland and the UK – explained: “We launched in the market over 24 months ago, simply because we had people from Ireland coming back from New Zealand looking to solve the mastitis problem on Irish farms.
“There’s massive interest in the product and people are buying the system because they want to save costs and to stop dumping milk for no reason.”
Chris also explained how the system works, adding: “Saber SCC measures SCC by measuring the DNA released from somatic cells in the milk.
“The amount of DNA released is directly proportional to the number of somatic cells in the milk. Saber SCC uses a Californian somatic cell test to get an accurate result.”
After testing, he said, the system provides the farmer with accurate information on SCC levels. A simply traffic light system is also utilised when the data is viewed on a phone or computer.
Prior to milking, he said, the operator can input a set of parameters for SCC. Cows that have low SCC levels will flash up as green; those with high levels will present with a red light.
He also touched on the benefits of the system, saying: “It allows you to do cheaper and better dry cow therapy and you are catching the animals in the sub-clinical stage.
“As a result, you are not dumping milk and you can use less aggressive treatments to get your cow back in action, thus reducing your antibiotic bill.”
Cost and payback
On average, he said, each unit costs €1,500 and it’s installed in every fourth stall.
“Across the herd, this allows you to spot check each of your cows 2.5 times each week and you are roughly checking 25% of your herd at each milking.
“The premium at the moment is 2c/L and if a herd producing one million litres drops its SCC to premium payable limits; that’s a return of €20,000 by just lowering the SCC.
If a farm is operating with a SCC of 200,000 cells/ml, it can easily drop to 100,000 cells/ml using the system and it will pay for itself in less than one year.
“The return on investment is roughly five months,” he said.