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Canadian Dairy Somatic Cell Count Policy Change

Canadian Dairy Milk SCC Standard Change to 400,000

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Dairy farmers across Canada are halfway through implementing the new somatic cell regulatory change from 500,000 to 400,000 cells per milliliter of milk. This is the latest milk quality commitment Dairy Farmers of Canada have made after implementing the Canadian Quality Milk program (CQM). The change was made back in 2007 at the Dairy Farmers of Canada’s annual policy conference where delegates agreed to change the national somatic cell count (SCC) standard. The policy change came into effect at the beginning of August 2012, so farmers are almost halfway through their first month implementing the policy on their farm operation.

Higher SCC doesn’t pose a risk to human health. However, it does decrease fluid milk shelf life and decrease cheese yields. The new regulatory measure is comparable to standards in the E.U. including countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland and Norway. In the U.S. it’s a different story - their current national SCC regulatory limit is 750,000.

As dairy farmers know all too well, SCC is one of the hardest milk quality indicators to manage on-farm. There are so many different factors that can affect SCC which makes it a challenge on almost every dairy operation across the country. The SCC penalty will still apply despite the recent change and producers will be subject to penalty if their monthly weighted-average is higher than the new regulatory limit. During this process, dairy farmers will receive warnings if their SCC is getting too high. 

There are some general farm management techniques that can help reduce SCC levels:

•    Environmental management including cleaning stalls, ensuring drinking water is clean
•    Removal of udder hair
•    Examining both pre and post milking procedures
•    Keeping a closer eye on cows who have a history of high SCC
•    Monitoring mastitis infection rates
•    Analysing cultures and milk quality reports
•    Dry-off cows following lactation treatment procedures
•    Paying  particular attention to calving pens
•    Consistent nutrition progress for spring heifers, dry and lactating cows

Despite some of the management practices that farmers can control, there are some factors that impact SCC that are out of the farmer’s control, including the state of lactation, time of year and diurnal variation just to name a few. Stage of lactation is an important factor because SCC increases during the first two weeks of calving and then they decrease during the second month of lactation and gradually increases for the remainder of the lactation period. Time of year is a strange factor because although seasonality affects SCC in so many different ways it’s not always clear why. Some studies have shown that increases in SCC during the spring and summer months are quite common. Dairy farmers living in provinces that have more moderate weather conditions may not have as much trouble compared to a dairy farmer living in a province that experiences extreme weather fluctuations. Seasonality can have an impact on the stress levels of the cows, often increasing the presence of flies and other pests. Lastly, diurnal variation is another factor out of farmer’s control. Some studies have shown that two consecutive milkings from the same cow fluctuates SCC levels. Morning milkings have on average 20% less SCC than those compared to afternoon milkings.

Canadian dairy farmers are subject to high standards to produce the best product for consumers to enjoy. For some farmers the new SCC count standard will be tough to achieve, not because they aren’t good managers but because factors such as weather could impede their success. This new regulation is a good example of how farmers are having to constantly evolve to meet both  processor and consumer demands, as lower SCC means a longer shelf life of fluid milk in grocery stores.

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