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Stackyard News Sep 2010

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NML Reveals Unprecedented Increase in Somatic Cell Counts

Milk quality results from National Milk Laboratories (NML) show an unprecedented increase in somatic cell counts (SCC) in the past six weeks. Average SCC for all samples tested through NML, which represents 96% of milk produced in Britain, peaked in early August at 236,000/ml - 17% higher than the same time last year.

NML director Ben Bartlett

NML director Ben Bartlett
NML has laboratories in Wolverhampton and Hillington, Glasgow and tests bulk milk samples from UK dairy herds on behalf of milk buyers. Weekly results for fat, protein, somatic cell count and bactoscan are sent to producers and their milk buyers. For the majority of producers, bulk tanks are sampled daily with spare samples held by NML for seven days for any additional quality or disease testing that may be required.

“The increase in SCC’s this summer would indicate that more herds are incurring penalties or running close to the penalty payment limits,” says NML director Ben Bartlett. “We are working closely with milk buyers in encouraging producers to be more proactive in tackling any problems before it affects their milk cheque – and the milk quality - and recommending that they carry out additional tests from samples already held by NML.

“We already have a lot of producers using MilkCheck which tests bulk milk samples daily or every other day and sends the results back via text and email. “Producers get the results within 24 hours and they can pick up any increases in cell counts or bactoscan at an early stage,” adds Mr Bartlett. “And what makes this so popular is that there’s no extra sampling required by the producer and very little additional cost.”

An analysis of top and bottom 25% of herds ranked on SCCs and tested through NML shows a large gap in the averages – a difference of 272,000/ml in July 2010 with the bottom 25% well over the limit on which most milk buyers impose penalty payments. The top 25% in July 2010 was 124,000/ml which is well within the top quality payment bands.

“Averages achieved by the top 25% highlight what can be achieved through attention to detail, good staff training and by following good routines that safe-guard herd health,” adds Mr Bartlett. “These herds typically have a proactive approach to mastitis management, making sure they monitor trends and act immediately if problems arise by getting more routine tests carried out.”

Producers using NMR’s milk recording service can use the monthly milk sample taken from individual cows to identify the mastitis causing pathogen through the company’s new Mastitis Tracker service. Armed with this information they can work with their vet to prescribe specific treatments that will deal with the problem cost-effectively and efficiently.

NMR will be demonstrating Mastitis Tracker – which was launched this summer – at the Dairy Event, NEC, September 7/8. More details are also available from NMR Customer Services on 0844 7255567 or send an email to

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