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Now you can accurately test your somatic cell count (SCC) number at the cow side without sending samples away. You can also test your Bulk Milk Cell Count (BMCC) in the same way.
SCC is an excellent sub clinical and clinical mastitis test method (for a comparison on different mastitis test methods see below). I have spoken to many farmers who use this test - the main reason being they get paid on SCC results, so they want to measure SCC rather than use other mastitis tests.
Somatic cells are leukocytes (white blood cells). The number of somatic cells increases in response to infection with mastitis. The SCC is quantified as cells per ml, and as a guide a value of less than 100,000 cells/ml indicates no infection while a value greater than 300,000 for cows indicates mastitis.
To use the test, simply sample the milk (forestrip, then consolidate a sample from the four quarters into a suitable container). If you are conducting the test on samples collected earlier, make sure you mix the sample (this is important with BMCC testing) as the somatic cells tend to associate with the fat cells. Add one drop of milk to the test strip using the supplied pipette. The pipette can be re-used. Let the milk absorb into the well. Add three drops of activator solution to the sample well. Don't overdo the activator, it does not speed up the test and means you will run out of solution before you run out of test strips. If the cell count is very high, the test strip will change colour in a few minutes. Wait 45 minutes before comparing the strip to the colour chart or running through the optional reader. Users who test regularly simply conduct the tests as they are milking and by the end of milking are reading results.
Full instructions and colour chart come with each kit.
After starting up the reader and running the blanking strip through it, insert your test strip. The results are shown on the screen in X.XX format. Multiply by 1,000,000 for your cell count (i.e. 0.16 = a SCC of 160,000).
This test has been on the market for over seven years, has been evaluated in universities in USA and Canada and has shown a good correlation with laboratory results. Closer to home one of our customers did back to back tests against their herd test centre and all results compared were within 10%.
Antibiotics do not affect the test.
We suggest you do not buy a test kit when you have a problem and then leave the remainder for some future problem. It is best to incorporate the test into your routine with suspect animals, even if you use other mastitis detection methods. That way you have knowledge of individual animals and their contribution to your BMCC.
The best way to manage a dairy cow herd is to undertake regular (preferably monthly) herd testing if that is available. If you can measure it you can manage it. A herd test record allows you to see a complete mastitis history and you can also track this by cow family to assist you in breeding. Herd testing gives you a great deal of information - even allowing you to identify cows at risk of ketosis from the fat to protein % comparison. If you are not in an area where you can get herd testing, then using the Porta tests (SCC and BHB) regularly and recording the results allows you to build your own history for managment purposes.
Controlling mastitis and SCC involves much more than monitoring what comes out of the udder. BMCC can be affected by the milking machine, the piping, the cleanliness of the bulk milk tank - anything that comes into contact with milk. While environmental mastitis is an obvious issue when conditions are very muddy, we have seen problems where sprinklers put on to keep cows cool in the yard on hot days (good) were pumping water from a dirty dam, which ran down on to the udders (bad). Milker hygiene is also critical. Some people use thicker milking gloves so they last longer - but it may be better to use the thinner gloves and change them often if gloves are not disinfected between suspect cows. This information is general in nature, and you should get veterinary advice if you have a mastitis problem. More information on mastitis control can be found at Countdown Downunder www.countdown.org.au/
Mastitis tests fall into four main groups, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Genetics Australia sell the main types of mastitis tests on this web site.
1. Rapid Mastitis Test/California Mastitis Test. This is a simple test where suspect milk is mixed with a reagent (normally a detergent). The mixture coagulates if the cell count is high. Generally this is done in a 'paddle' with a small cup for each quarter. Although a very simple test it is quite accurate and remains a good test - however it is not used so commonly now as it was in the past as it is time consuming and requires some interpretation of the results.
2. Conductivity tests. These have been used for many years - as the cow gets mastitis the composition of the milk changes and therefore the conductivity. Genetics Australia sells the Mas-D-Tec on this site, which is a conductivity tester. Conductivity testers are fast to use and many farmers like them for this reason. If you search the internet you will find mixed results on the accuracy of conductivity testing - this is because conductivity has a correlation with mastitis infection but also varies with milk composition etc. Conductivity appears to change early in the mastitis infection, and by the time the milk is 'lumpy' the infection is at an end and the conductivity may have returned to normal. Conductivity tests do not give a SCC count - they operate on a comparison between quarter basis - if one quarter is vastly different to the other quarters then that quarter is suspect. Some automatic milking machines (robot milkers) monitor conductivity as a mastitis indicator.
3. pH tests. Generally test papers. The pH of milk changes as a cow is infected and pH test papers are quick and easy to use. Custom made test papers are available on this site which give a visible colour change where the pH of the milk has changed.
4. Cell count tests - such as done by laboratories, herd test centres and with Portacheck. This gives the actual cell count. Cell count rises as the infection progresses.