Counting the cost of Somatic Cells


Somatic cells entering the udder do a great job in fighting infection, but in the process can damage the milk secretory cells and reduce milk yield.

It is possible to calculate the resultant loss of milk based on SCC and value the loss. Tracker™ has calculated the average farm as losing around $27,000 per year.

The chart shows a selection of farms monitored using the TrackerTM system.

The top 10% of herds on TrackerTM achieve SCC of less than the benchmark of 100,000 cells, but many farms are losing significant amounts of potential income, especially bigger farms.

N.B. All farms are normalised to a $5.60 payout to reflect a longer term average milk price.

Why are somatic cells so damaging?

Somatic cells are mainly made up from Leukocytes (white blood cells). These are the body’s defence mechanism to undesirable bacterial infection of the udder.

As somatic cells rush to fight a bacterial invasion, they enter the alveoli. These are the clusters of milk secretory cells which pack the udder.

As the somatic cells pass from the bloodstream into the Lumen of the Alveoli they damage the milk secretory cells. The more somatic cells, the more damage.

The net effect is that the cow has less ability to secrete milk, irrespective of the nutrition, thus reducing feed conversion.

Calculating milk loss

Understanding the potential loss of milk income on your own farm allows you to put into context the value of the solution.

The inset shows the calculation made by TrackerTM for a single farm.

This farm lost a calculated 3,710KgMS over the season, which at a $5.60 payout, was worth $22,632.

If SCC could be brought back down below 100,000 SCC, then there would be a potential recovery of all this lost milk and its income.

Money spent on the prevention of high SCC should be viewed in context of the cost of the problem. If this farm were to spend $10,000 (around half of the lost value) on bringing SCC down then this would potentially give a 2:1 return on investment.

So, what would need to be done and how much would it cost to bring SCC back down below 100,000 cells?

SCC review

At STgenetics, our programs help you identify the opportunities and offer profitable solutions. Our team will:

  • Use Tracker to calculate the potential milk lost through somatic cells.
  • Review cell count over the season and review nutritional reasons for cell count running continually high, or peaks occurring.
  • Review the herd:
    • Type traits on udders and teats
    • Herd test data
    • Review breeding policy to select dams and sires with improved udders and transmitting abilities

The data shown in the chart is from the top 10 STgenetics B&W and Jersey sires for low Somatic Cell Count[1].

These all display reduced SCC from the breed average of 3.0

Call us on 0800 784363 to discuss reviewing your herd SCC

[1] Data from this list of sires is derived from genomic testing.