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Hand holding an iodine bottle on cow's udder for disinfection before milking Jevtic/Getty Images
LOWER STRESS DURING HEAT: Cows with high somatic cell counts are usually diagnosed with subclinical mastitis. High SCC counts increase during heat because of the increased exposure of the teat end to bacteria.

5 steps to decrease somatic cell counts

It’s important to keep stalls clean, provide good fly control and provide plenty of water for your cows.

Many dairy producers see an increase in their somatic cell count in their milking herd during the summer and fall months.

Why does this happen and how can you prevent it?

Somatic cell counts tend to rise with temperature and humidity levels during summer months. Environmental stress caused by the high summer temperatures are responsible for the elevated counts. These higher somatic cell counts can stick around for weeks or even months.

It is a known fact that cows are physically more stressed when it is hot. We often see a decrease in production due to cows standing or lying more where it is cooler and spending less time eating at the bunk.

Environmental mastitis increases during this time because of the increased exposure of the teat end to bacteria. Research has shown high circulating levels of stress hormones interfere with the ability of the immune system to destroy bacteria. When bacteria enter the udder, an immune response sends somatic cells to fight the invader. Stress hormones cause a depressing effect on the somatic cells; this in turn limits their function to fully protect against mastitis causing organisms.

5 tips on how to lower somatic cell counts in hot weather

Here are some steps to reduce heat stressors and lower somatic cell counts:

1. Keep beds clean and dry. This will help to reduce bacteria growth and encourage cows to lay in stalls instead of the alley when trying to stay cool.

Free stalls should have at least 1-3 inches of bedding at all time. Every time cows are moved to the parlor stalls should be groomed by removing all the manure and wet bedding. Depending on how dirty or wet stalls are, cows may need bedded more often. 

You should also make sure stalls are properly sized to reduce the amount of manure on the stall bed, and make sure mattresses are maintained properly and repaired as needed.

If bedding with sand, slope sand toward the rear of the stall. Also, make sure stalls are full of sand with no holes dug into them

2. Manage your fans and sprinklers. It is important to properly manage these tools to reduce wet stall beds, overly wet cows or places in the barn that cows congregate. It is important to reduce areas that can become overloaded with manure where cows can easily become dirty and increase the incidence of mastitis.

3. Keep flies under control. Flies are important vectors of disease. Biting flies greatly increase stress in your herd and carry disease organisms, resulting in decreased production and the spreading of mastitis.

Remove all manure from livestock pens as frequently as possible. Calf pens may require special attention. It’s best to clean these pens once a week. A clean barn has fewer fly problems.

Spread manure thinly outdoors in order for fly eggs and larvae to be killed by drying. You can also stack this waste and cover it with a black plastic tarp.

Eliminate silage seepage areas, manure stacks, old wet hay or straw bales, and other organic matter accumulations that can attract flies. Wet feed remaining at the ends of mangers will breed flies.

Also make sure to provide proper drainage in barnyards. Use clean gravel and other fill to eliminate low spots in livestock yards. Proper grading and tiling can reduce wet barnyards. Also, keep water troughs and hydrants leak-free.

Finally, combine routine sanitation with a variety of pesticide strategies. Use baits, residual sprays, space sprays and larvicides whenever flies are a problem. Don’t wait for heavy fly populations to build up; it’s much easier and less expensive to prevent fly populations from increasing at the beginning of the season than to control them after they have reached unacceptable density levels.  

4. Provide training on good milking practices. It is important to make sure all employees are following milking procedures correctly. This will help reduce new mastitis infections as well as identify clinical cases of mastitis quickly.

5. Provide lots of clean water. Cows drink about 50% more water when the temperature is 80 degrees F vs. when it’s 40 degrees. They need water to cool themselves through increased respiration and perspiration.

Source: Penn State Extension, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.
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