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High somatic Cell Count Cows

What is the impact?

Cases of mastitis are described as clinical or sub-clinical. Clinical cases are those cases you can see – cases showing clots in the milk, heat in the udder (sometimes with swelling) and hardness. These cows often look and act ill. But how much mastitis is there that you can’t see?

A raised somatic cell count (SCC) without the obvious external signs of mastitis indicates sub-clinical mastitis. Somatic cells are white blood cells and other body cells found in the udder. When there is infection and inflammation, more white blood cells are drawn to the udder to fight the infection and they accumulate along with other body cells and are shed in the milk. There is a good correlation between the herd bulk SCC and the number of cows in a herd showing subclinical infection. For a herd with SCC of 200,000 cells/ml, it can be assumed that 20% of the cows are sub-clinically infected1.

What are the implications for you? It has been shown that for every 100,000 cells/ ml over 200,000cells/ml bulk SCC there is a 2.5% reduction in milk yield1. This means a significant deduction from your monetary “bottom line” if not corrected as soon as possible.

It’s also important to remember that, even after mammary infection has been cured, the SCC will still be raised as it takes time for the inflammation to subside.

How to treat?

When faced with a high BMSCC, the first task is to identify the individual culprits. Performing a California Mastitis Test (CMT) on the whole herd is a quick and cheap way to get an idea of which cows are causing the problem. It can also tell you whether the cows that are responsible have a high SCC across multiple quarters or just one. The next step is to consult with your vet about getting some laboratory results from the high SCC cows. Sterile milk sampling from a significant number of animals means that you will know which bacteria are causing the problem. Armed with this information you and your vet can then target treatment not just specifically for those cows causing the raised BMSCC, but also for those bacteria. If multiple quarters are infected, then treatment may be best given systemically (via an injection) rather than locally (via an intramammary). This is because each treatment that is given treats all four quarters rather than just the one.

How to prevent?

High somatic cell count problems are generally caused by Gram-positive bacteria, such as Staph. aureus or Strep. uberis. These can be the result of infection from other cows, i.e. they are contagious mastitis bacteria (e.g. staph aureus). Infection can be passed from cow to cow via the milking machine, so control of a high SCC problem should involve discussing the milking routine with your vet. Are you always post-milking disinfecting the udder? Is it with a spray? If so are you getting sufficient cover across all parts of the teats? When were the teat liners last replaced? There are other ways to reduce contagious mastitis spread at milking time, but regular servicing and maintenance of the milking machine should always be a part of prevention of mastitis.

Sometimes the environment can be a cause of the problem, for example with Strep. uberis causing high SCC issues, where classically a straw yard may be the cause of these bacteria infecting the udder.

Lastly, sometimes a high SCC cow may have a persistent mastitis infection and when successive infections have failed to cure even with extended therapy, early drying off or even culling may be the only way to remove the source of the problem, not just for the cow, but for the rest of the herd she may be infecting.


1. Dairy Co 2012. www.mastitiscontrolplan.co.uk. Website accessed 7.7.2012. [now www.dairyco.org.uk/mastitis]

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Date of preparation: Jul 2013. AHD 7729. Use Medicines Responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible)