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Dairy Corner: Udder Health in the Heat

It never ceases to amaze me how much udder health has improved in the dairy industry over the past decade. Somatic cell count (SCC), a measure of inflammation in the udder, is down to levels that seemed impossible just a few years ago.

udder health in the heat

Antibiotic-use to treat mastitis is down significantly due to improved udder health and implementation of on-farm culturing to direct treatment. This improves dairy margins through milk quality premiums, reduced drug cost, but most importantly increased milk production. Elevated SCC causes significant production loss due to damage to the udder that is caused by inflammation. The loss is greater in cows that have an elevated cell count early in lactation. Because the production loss is proportional to a cow’s potential production, high producing cows lose more pounds of milk than low producing cows. Milk loss occurs at any SCC greater than 100,000.

While the industry as a whole has made great strides in udder health, Virginia dairies almost always see elevated SCC in the summer heat. Increased humidity means that the environment stays wetter. Heat stress decreases the immune system’s ability to combat infection. Pathogens also multiply more rapidly in warm weather.

Remember to focus your efforts on keeping the environment clean and cool to minimize the spread of pathogens in the barn. Keep cattle handling slow and low stress for improved milk let down and reduced manure splashing. Revisit parlor procedure to make sure that everyone is doing their part to keep cows healthy through the summer. Virginia summers are hard on dairy cattle - every effort that you make to mitigate heat stress and maximize cow comfort means improved health, milk quality and production for your herd.

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