The National Dairy Council (NDC), in conjunction with Teagasc, held a farm walk last week (Wednesday, June 15) on the McCarthy family’s farm.
The McCarthy family from Feenagh, Co. Limerick, was the NDC milk quality awards’ overall winner for 2021.
The family milks 170 Holstein-Friesian-type cows and last year, their herd’s milk averaged a total bacteria count (TBC) of 4,000, somatic cell count (SCC) of 108,000 and thermoduric bacteria averaged 127,000.
Selective dry cow therapy (SDCT) is used on 80% of their herd, and this was discussed at the farm walk.
Milk quality farm walk
Speaking at the event, Don Crowley from Teagasc outlined the new regulations around antibiotic usage, milk recording and SDCT.
Don said: “Antibiotics are now banned from being used for prophylactic use; what does that mean?
“It means antibiotics can no longer be used to prevent an infection from occurring.
“Where does dry cow therapy fit into this?” he asked.
“We have been using antibiotics on all our cows, whether they had an infection or not,” he said.
“Under the new legislation they want to prevent this from happening and there are two main reasons for this: The consumers demanding it and trying to manage antibiotic resistance.”
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) related deaths, he said, have been going under the radar due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Commenting on the role of SDCT, Don said: “What we are now trying to do is treat the cows that need it, but the risk is great.
“I think the risk is very high for low cell count herds, depending on the threshold for your herd you could have a large number of cows that don’t qualify for an antibiotic.
“The antibiotic is an insurance policy for herds, so even low herds are at risk – that is why we need to get our ducks in a row.
“The sealer is the only thing that is there to prevent cows from picking up an infection.”
Continuing, he said: “Milk recording is so important because it allows you to track cell counts within your herd.
“But it is also important that you record clinical cases; you could treat a cow for mastitis between recordings and she would show up as a low cell count on the recording.
“So tracking the clinical cases within your herd is so important as this allows you to remove these cows from the herd if the cases become chronic.”
Set the bar high
Don suggested that farmers starting SDCT should set the bar high and only use SDCT on these cows.
He said that a recommended level of 100,000 is good, but start with cows that are consistently under 50,000 SCC.
“That is what the McCarthy family did and they have been building the threshold since then to a level where 80% of the herd now doesn’t get an antibiotic,” he said.
“Some of the things that happen at drying off on farms will not work for SDCT so setting high standards is important.
“Going forward, we may be looking at only treating the high quarter of the cow rather than all of the quarters.”